Author: Kenneth Oppel
Illustrator: Sydney Smith
Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge
I’ve seen this middle grade novel on a lot of book lists (Quill & Quire Best Book, CYBILS Awards, CBC Best Book of the Year, New York Times Notable…) but the premise of an ink blot coming to life didn’t really appeal to me. Then my kids picked it up at the library and started raving about it too. So I cracked the cover and at the risk of sounding cliché – couldn’t put it down.
Inkling comes to life out of Ethan’s dad’s sketch book but Ethan finds him first (unless you count the confrontation with the cat that opens the story). Soon Inkling’s helping Ethan with a graphic novel project for school. He becomes the dog Ethan’s sister (who has Down syndrome) always wanted and eventually starts working for Ethan’s dad (who’s a comic artist).
As Inkling becomes a member of the family, Ethan reconsiders everything from the definition of cheating to the real reason his dad’s stuck. But the moral dilemma at the heart of the story is Inkling’s well being. Ethan’s dad thinks Ethan gives Inkling too many human qualities. Ethan’s horrified when other characters in the story treat Inkling like a caged animal. What’s the difference between letting Inkling help and taking advantage of him?
When Inkling goes missing, I felt as horrified as Ethan and his family. That’s when I saw the true brilliance of this character. Inkling starts out as an extension of Ethan’s dad’s imagination but learns from the diverse books Ethan feeds him, changes from experience and grows through his relationship with others. All the characters in this story are strong – and all develop in their own way – but Inkling’s the star.
I got distracted by a few typos and didn’t pay much attention to the black and white illustrations. But the cover art is brilliant and as a package this book definitely checks boxes for publishers wanting middle grade novels with more artwork and magic realism. For me, though, it was all about the heart of the story and the quick paced action that brings Inkling and his family to a tear-worthy conclusion.