Wednesday, November 28, 2012

At Yellow Lake by Jane McLoughlin

Etta, Peter and Jonah all find themselves at a cabin by the shore of Yellow Lake, and flung together in the terrifying series of events that follows. 

Jonah has come to Yellow Lake to try to get in touch with his Ojibwe roots. Peter is there to bury a lock of his mother's hair - her final request. Etta is on the run from her mother's creepy boyfriend, Kyle, and his dodgy friends. 

But as the three take shelter in the cabin, finding surprising solace in each other's company, they soon realise that they have inadvertently stumbled onto the scene of a horrifying crime, and Kyle and his cronies have no intention of letting them escape. 

What to say about At Yellow Lake that the handy synopsis doesn't give away? Not much, actually.  

What I found interesting about At Yellow Lake is that the author used three very distinctive voices to tell the story - the three points of view came from the three main characters.  And yes, they are all main characters rather than one main with a side of two secondary characters - this surprised me.  I felt for Etta and Peter and Jonah, their voices were fresh and new but it also made me cringe.  Especially Jonah's voice - there was this naivety about his expectations (go live in the woods and live off the land like his ancestors did) that made me deeply uncomfortable.  Not just because of his innocence but because you kind of know that things are going to go tits-up sooner or later. 

Because of this, my own hesitancy, I don't think I enjoyed At Yellow Lake as much as I should have.  And it's weird - I think it's because I knew A Bad Thing was going to happen, that I expected it to happen, so rather than looking forward to it, it made me worry for the characters - again, not necessarily a bad thing, but it did hamper my enjoyment of a book that is technically well written and in some places running amuck with achingly beautiful prose. 

Also, I think the overall plot, the danger the kids are in is actually incidental to the actual story - bear with me as I explain what I mean (it's not a criticism).  The story for me is about three kids, who are terrifically alone in this crowded world of ours, who for reasons of their own, go to great lengths to be cut off from society.  It's about kids who don't see themselves as part of a community or family and they feel weak and powerless because of their loneliness.  But once they find one another, there is conflict and tension, but a bond of camaraderie forms and they stand together in the face of adversity.  And that's what this book is about.  It's also about survival and how doing the right thing for the wrong reasons sometimes turn out to be the better thing to do, rather than inaction. 

I enjoyed At Yellow Lake, I'd recommend it as a thoughtful read for strong independent readers from say 12+ who are maybe a bit more mature in their reading tastes.  Personally, I would have liked a longer book and I felt that the ending was exactly as it should be, but again, there were scenes, especially when Etta, Jonah and Peter were together, that I would have liked to have been deeper, less rushed.  

Find the author, Jane McLoughlin's website here and At Yellow Lake's been longlisted for the Carnegie.  Find the whole giant list here.   

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