Rated Reads

The Lake Effect

by Erin McCahan

Rated: Moderate

Briggs Henry has a father who focuses on success and lives by aphorisms (“failure is not an option,” “you don’t get points for effort”); a mother who lives by lists, and a grandmother who seems entirely without humor, doesn’t like sarcasm, and gives him a Ficus for his graduation present. He’s expected to take it with him to his summer job and college and keep it alive using the care instructions she’s printed out for him.

Briggs also has an ex-girlfriend who broke up with him a couple months prior, and he is having a hard time not thinking about her — and her new boyfriend.

And always, through all he does, he thinks about the money his family used to have and what they lost.

His summer job is staying with an 80-something woman who lives on Lake Michigan and needs some help. He figures it should be an easy one, since he’s been volunteering at an assisted living center and has charming older ladies down to a science. But when he arrives at a giant, gorgeous Victorian house and meets Mrs. Bozic, a tiny Serbian lady with a strong accent, a laugh that is signaled by her shoulders moving up and down, and a habit of attending funerals, he starts to realize the summer isn’t going to be quite as he expected.

Mrs. B. has no Wi-Fi and expects to be able to reach Briggs when she needs him by using a pair of walkie-talkies. She says part of his job is to escort her to funerals. And when his phone loudly (and accidentally) plays a video in the middle of their first funeral, she expects him to write apology notes to the pastor and the deceased’s widow.

Briggs meets the teen girl next door, Abigail, who walks her bike around town, keeps herself at arm’s length and tends to lie on a towel on the beach and, sometimes, just disappear for a few days. He is intrigued by her, not least because she is pretty.

As the summer progresses, Briggs (or “Briggs Baby,” as Mrs. B often calls him) paints entire rooms in her house various shades of blue in an attempt to get the right color, goes to funeral after funeral, hangs out with the local teens and slowly gets to know Abigail. He starts coming to terms a bit with what he’s lost and what his family is like, and he comes to care a great deal about Mrs. B.

Erin McCahan consistently has produced sweet, funny stories with characters to care about, and this is no different. I laughed, I smiled, I felt for Briggs and those around him. I think I and all other readers just adore Mrs. B. I bought this book right away without blinking because I’ve been so happy with McCahan’s other two: I Now Pronounce You Someone Else and Love and Other Foreign Words. As always, I look forward to more in the future.

Rated: Moderate. There are occasional instances of mild and moderate language, a couple of brief mentions of teen drinking and a couple of kissing scenes that involve a little bit more than kissing (just mentioning hands under sweatshirts). I’d call this a “new adult” book, really, and it’s close to being just a mild rating.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for more than 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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  • The Lake Effect
  • by Erin McCahan
  • Rated: Moderate
  • Genre: Young adult
  • Reviewer: