Children's books and book reviews - reading resource for kids, teachers, librarians, parents

*Ingo* by Helen Dunmore- young readers book review


by Helen Dunmore
Ages 9-12 336 pages HarperCollins August 2006 Hardcover    

Sapphire and her brother Connor have lost their father to the sea. Did he drown? Did he run away with another woman? As the novel opens, Sapphire’s father tells her the story of the Mermaid of Zennor while they look at a carving of the mermaid in Zennor Church in Cornwall. Many years ago, the mermaid fell in love with Mathew Trewhella, and he chose to abandon his earthly life to live with her in the Mer kingdom of Ingo. Mathew Trewhella is also her father’s name.

When their father disappears on his fishing boat one calm night, everything changes for the family. His boat, the Peggy Gordon, is found, and he is presumed to have drowned. However, Sapphire and Connor refuse to believe that he is dead. Their father had supported them with his fishing while their mother stayed home. Now their mother must support the family by working as a waitress at a restaurant, leaving the two children on their own for long periods of time. One day, Sapphire cannot find Connor and looks for him by the cove. She sees him talking to a sea creature – a mermaid. Soon, she too has met a Mer man – Faro – who takes her on a magical trip under the ocean. Sapphire is able to breathe under the ocean and learns about the life of the Mer people. She explores her new world and gets to know other undersea creatures – whales, dolphins and sharks.

However, the call to go to Ingo soon becomes an obsession for Sapphire. She is drawn to Ingo more and more until she finds it hard to resist its call. Meanwhile, her mother is becoming romantically involved with Roger, a diver who wants to dive into Mer lands. Will Sapphire be able to resist the call of Ingo? Will she become one of the Mer? Will she find her father?

Sapphire is a multi-dimensional character who will appeal to young readers. When her father is found missing and presumed dead, the reader can feel her pain. Her struggle to prove that her father is alive leads her to travel into the mysterious undersea world of Ingo. She loves her brother dearly but feels that he is going to be pulled into Ingo and leave her forever – just like her father did. She also wonders if her father left them for the watery world of Ingo. Her conflicts with her mother about her new job and her new romantic interest will be familiar to young readers who often find themselves in conflict with their parents.

Unlike Sapphire, Connor seems to be much more willing to compromise with his mother. At the beginning of the novel, Sapphire tells us that the family is divided into two parts: the impetuous Sapphire and her father, and the dependable Connor and his mother.

Helen Dunmore, an accomplished prize-winning novelist and poet, has written a lyrical account of an undersea fantasy world. Dunmore uses poetry and music to move the plot forward on several occasions; the first we hear of the kingdom of Ingo is in a song sung by Sapphire’s father. The novel is also filled with marvelous descriptions of undersea locations, ocean currents, sea creatures and the Mer people. Dunmore portrays fish as having a collective memory transcending generations. The description of how Sapphire is able to breathe underwater is explained when it is revealed that she is a direct descendent of the original Mathew Trewhella. The pull to leave a somewhat depressing existence on Earth and to join an exciting and wonderful undersea community becomes the focal point of her life. Readers will be pleased to know that this is only the first book of a planned trilogy.

click here to browse children's board book reviews
click here to browse children's picture book reviews
click here to browse young readers book reviews
click here to browse young readers book reviews
click here to browse young adult book reviews
click here to browse parenting book reviews
web reviews
  Myra Junyk/2006 for curled up with a good kid's book  

For grown-up fiction, nonfiction and speculative fiction book reviews,
visit our sister site Curled Up With a Good Book (