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The Lake Effect

Review

The Lake Effect

THE LAKE EFFECT is a deceptively simple and laugh-out-loud funny read perfect for your July and August reading. The novel is set in the beach town of South Haven, on the shores of Lake Michigan, where Briggs Henry is spending the summer after senior year. Briggs is working for an old woman, Mrs. Božić (or Mrs. B, for short) in need of a live-in aid over the summer at her beachfront Victorian house. However, “aid” doesn’t even begin to cover his job, from attending her funerals (or so she labels them), to painting, re-painting and re-painting bedrooms, communicating via walkie talkie and interpreting her heavily accented speech and broken English.

"THE LAKE EFFECT is charming and hilarious, but layered with themes that keep the story from falling into the “fluff” category and elevate Erin McCahan’s novel to one that both entertains and teaches the reader."

The job does have its perks, however, including meeting Abigail, Mrs. B’s mysterious and strange neighbor, who both confuses and interests Briggs, as well as the other teenage locals in the town. Though there are plenty of fun moments, Briggs finds that his interactions in South Haven force him to look deeper into his character and his goals for the future, as well as his familial disconnect at home. Thus begins a summer of both growth and memories, one that is guaranteed to give Briggs far more than he anticipated.

THE LAKE EFFECT is charming and hilarious, but layered with themes that keep the story from falling into the “fluff” category and elevate Erin McCahan’s novel to one that both entertains and teaches the reader. In terms of characters, Mrs. B provides most of the comic relief in the story, and readers will find themselves grinning and even laughing out loud at her mannerisms and attitude --- as well as her squabbles with Briggs. She helps to change his character and provides a living model for many of the lessons Briggs learns, including facing uncertainty and caring for others. The story is unified by these strong, cohesive lessons, with even the secondary characters and storylines adding to these main themes. This quality is one that is not always seen in young adult books, which will often become so focused on plot that the themes fade into the background.

As a main character, Briggs is interesting because he doesn’t fit into the usual protagonist tropes, yet he doesn’t stand out as a “villain,” either: he seems bland, average and like someone who is looking to go to college and find a job that pays to feel like he has a sense of security in life. He is disinterested and callous; he does what is expected of him, but not because he means it. While some of this seems to be his natural character, the reader also sees that Briggs’ detached nature is partially designed to hide his need for connection and deeper meaning, something that becomes fully apparent as the story progresses. By the end of the novel, Briggs is more compassionate but also more willing to reach out to others, which benefits those around him as well as himself. McCahan does an excellent job with this subtle characterization, creating a multifaceted character who indirectly reveals himself to the narrator, and his gradual character growth that spans the entire novel.

In terms of plot, the story is well paced, with multiple storylines dabbling in interactions with Briggs’ parents, grandmother and Abigail, all of which help to develop Briggs as a character. There are some hilariously awkward and “cringe-worthy” scenes that will make the reader smile and wince at the same time. The setting also adds to the lighter tone of the story, with the relaxed atmosphere of South Haven leaking off the pages; very unlike Briggs himself, it is the perfect location for unconscious reflection as Briggs escapes the confines of society for the summer, allowing him to grow and change in attitude.

The only element of the story that seems slightly underdeveloped is the ending --- the story ends very abruptly, perhaps too quickly for some readers’ tastes. Overall, however, anyone looking for a book that is light yet meaningful will not be disappointed, and the story will leave readers wishing that they were getting to enjoy a summer as interesting, hilarious and worthwhile as the one portrayed in THE LAKE EFFECT.

Reviewed by Rachel R., Teen Board Member on July 28, 2017

The Lake Effect
by Erin McCahan