Monday, September 13, 2010

Ingo: A Series for Mermaid Lovers

Mermaids, I suspect, are a perennial favorite among girls. Unfortunately, books about mermaids tend to be a bit light on literary merit. In a word, they often stink. What a great thing, then, is the Ingo series by Helen Dunmore.

11 year old Sapphire and her brother Connor live in Cornwall, growing up "in sight of the sea," as their mother puts it. One midsummer's night, their father, a fisherman, leaves the family to go for a walk by the ocean and disappears. The family is fractured by his disappearance. When his boat washes ashore some days later, rumors abound -- he drank too much that night and fell overboard, he only made it look like he drowned and he's left them for another woman. But there is one possibility that Sapphire is forced to consider: that he went into the sea of his own free will, lured by something out there, something irresistible.

Her suspicions are sharpened when her brother Connor begins disappearing for hours at a time; in fact, he seems barely conscious of the time he is gone and his manner tells Sapphy that he is being pulled toward the sea as their father was. She sees him sitting on a rock just off the shore, talking to a strange girl, but he denies later that he was with anyone. Then one day, she herself feels drawn, pulled like a magnet toward the ocean, and there she meets Faro, a boy who takes her into the realm of Ingo beneath the sea.

Ingo is a step up from books like The Tale of Emily Windsnap (and for comparison, Emily Windsnap is a step up from the Tinkerbell books). The writing is better, the plot is richer and more complex. The characters and their motives are more finely drawn and more multi-faceted. Even Ingo itself is a riddle: is it good? Is it evil? Do Faro and his sister mean well or ill? It all adds to the tension and the conflict. There's a parallel plot involving Sapphire and Connor's mum, who is beginning to date again and the book explores their feelings for her new friend, who they both like and detest in equal measure. He's a likable guy, but he's not their dad. And they both feel very strongly that their father is still alive, perhaps is even in Ingo.

here are four books in the series. It's been around for a while -- Ingo was published in 2005 -- but the last book was only recently made available in the US. If you have a strong reader, this one could go as young as 9 or 10, and I think its appeal would hold into 8th or even 9th grade. If you have a daughter who likes magic and fantasy, this is a good one to try.


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