Book Review: Ingo by Helen Dunmore

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat and read a children’s book cover-to-cover in a single day, but my pre-schooler and I were sick in bed today, and while he snoozed at my side, there was little else for me to do but stare at my Kindle. I’m not even sure how this book ended up on my to-read list; Amazon pulled it up for me based off of the numerous sea and mermaid-themed YA books I’ve downloaded over the years (The SirenMoonglass and Sirena come to mind), and I liked the opening pages.

Once I started reading Ingo by Helen Dunmore, I couldn’t stop. Even though this book is for a younger audience than I typically read, and doesn’t contain any romance, I just had to learn all about eleven-year-old Sapphire and her beloved fisherman father, and their idyllic coastal village in Cornwall, England. I truly became enwrapped in the mystery of her dad’s tragic disappearance, the local lore of one of their ancestors running away with a mermaid hundreds of years ago, and the ineffable force pulling Sapphire toward the ocean, into the world of Ingo. With her elder brother Conor, Sapphire learns of their innate magic. Soon, she must straddle the deep and mysterious underwater world of the Mer, called Ingo, and ordinary life in Cornwall with a frazzled Mum who’s trying to provide for her children on top of picking up a new life for herself in the midst of the loss of her husband. The blending of Sapphire’s two worlds feels very natural throughout the course of the book. Somehow, Ingo refrains from being too fantastical, and feels right as though it belongs in our world, as if almost perfectly plausible.

While the world-building and the secret histories of the town and some of its creatures and residents were the story’s definite strong points, I would’ve hoped for the more pressing mysteries to be answered by the end of the book: in particular, what happened to Sapphire’s dad. But I finished the book to discover that it’s the first in a series of at least three or four more. After reading the synopses of the sequels, I was disappointed to see that what kept me going throughout the course of this story doesn’t appear to get answered any time soon. But it is a well-written and consuming coming-of-age narrative. It reminded me a lot of Emily Windsnap blended with Because of Winn*Dixie. Indeed, younger readers of Liz Kessler and other children’s/YA mermaid novels will want to check this title out.

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