Enchantment Lake: A Northwood’s Mystery by Margi Preus University of Minnesota Press 2015

Duluth author Margi Preus’ newly released Enchantment Lake opens with Francie, an aspiring teen actress, receiving an urgent phone call from her great aunts Astrid and Jeanette.  

Due to a bad connection, the best Francie can decipher is, “Someone is frying two grilled auks.” Concerned, Francie immediately calls her grandfather, but he dismisses her worries, citing his sister’s known eccentricities.

Unconvinced, Francie decides on a whim to travel to Minnesota to check on Astrid and Jeanette. Once there, she discovers (a) her aunts have told everyone she’s a detective, and (b) a number of suspicious or mysterious deaths have occurred.

Soon, Francie is embroiled in a real-life murder mystery as she tries to discover the true circumstances of the deaths, while dodging her grandfather’s repeated phone messages in the hopes that she can solve the mystery before she has to explain why she skipped out on school and the audition she was supposed to attend.

Authors often struggle to appeal to young readers without talking down to them or assuming a limited vocabulary. Preus’ light, conversational tone achieves this balance with aplomb. I was never quite certain whether I was reading an adult novel with a teen protagonist or a young adult novel with well-formed and believable adult characters. Bonus points for not resorting to the post-apocalyptic theme that has become a fad in YA literature.  

Francie’s aunts, with all their quirks, reminded me of Mrs. WhatsIt from Madeline L'Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Although the books are markedly different, Astrid and Jeanette are similarly unconventional and easily, but wrongly, dismissed by others.

While this is Preus’ first mystery, she has written a number of other novels, including Shadow on the Mountain, West of the Moon, and the Newberry Honored Heart of a Samurai.

Each brings important but lesser known historical figures and events to younger readers—a courier for the Norwegian World War II resistance in Shadow on the Mountain; the Opening of Japan in Heart of a Samurai; and Norwegian folk tales in West of the Moon.
★ ★ ★ ★ ½

Interview with the Author

Zenith: You write for younger readers. What draws you to this genre?

Preus: I find it very rewarding to write for young people. They are entering a time in their lives when the world is just opening up—a world filled with possibility. And danger. And wonder.

Z: Assuming Enchantment Lake were being made into a movie, who would be your first pick for the role of Francie?

P: I think Jennifer Lawrence is too old now. Otherwise she’d be the obvious choice, natch.

Z: At what point in your life did you first consider yourself to be a writer?

P: Kindergarten. Even though I didn’t technically know how to write yet.

Z: What is the earliest memory you have of writing a story?

P: I started out writing plays. The first one I “wrote” was probably the summer after kindergarten. It spiraled out of control after that.

Z: The setting of Enchantment Lake reminds me of stories my mother used to tell of going to visit her grandmother at her grandmother’s lake house. Was there a similar place from your own childhood that served as the inspiration for Enchantment Lake?

A: Oh gosh, yes. I grew up spending summers at my family’s lake cabin and once I grew up, my husband and I bought our own—on the same lake, where there are lots of other siblings, cousins, uncles—and many amazing aunts.

Z: If you could be the original author of any book (other than your own), which book would it be and why?

P: Millions of them! If I had to pick one, I’d say Moby Dick, but that’s just because Moby Dick is my go-to answer. And I love Melville. Plus he’s long dead so he couldn’t complain if suddenly all the copies of Moby Dick in the world suddenly said, “By Margi Preus.”

Z: If you had not decided to become a writer, what career path do you think you would have chosen?

P: I spent most of my life as a theatre director and teacher, so those would be logical choices.

Z: What advice or words of encouragement would you give to aspiring young authors?

P: Read, write, and rewrite. Rewrite some more. Take advice. Get used to throwing your stuff away. Develop “the habit of art,” as Flannery O’Connor suggested. Better yet, just read her advice.

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