Ingo – Helen Dunmore

I always feel so honoured when someone tells me about one of their favourite books. Books have been such an integral part of my life and I know without a doubt that my experiences, hopes, dreams and pain, all mingled together, make certain books more personally significant than others. If I learn about a book that was important to someone in their childhood then I’m likely to want to dive straight in.

That’s what happened with this book. I was 8 pages into my next read when I learned of this book’s existence. Within the hour I had found a copy at my library (I love my library!) and begun reading. Sorry, other read.

There’s a track that runs from their cottage to the cove. The beach disappears at high tide but Sapphire and her older brother, Conor, know the tides and spend a lot of their time exploring and swimming there. Their father, Mathew, often takes his boat (the Peggy Gordon) out, fishing and taking photos, but their mother, Jennie, is afraid of the sea. It’s always been the four of them. Until the day Mathew doesn’t come home.

I wish this book had been available when I was a child. I was also a child of the water and would always answer ‘dolphin’ when asked what animal I would be if I had any choice in the matter. I would have loved getting a glimpse of the world beneath the waves. Adult me got excited when I learned there would be Mer, wanting to learn all about their way of life and whether I could visit them.

I wish I was away in Ingo

Far across the briny sea,

Sailing over deepest waters

Where love nor care never trouble me –

The only thing that deterred me from wanting to find a way to Ingo myself was learning that Mer don’t have books. Even if the learning curve required to survive under water didn’t kill me, not having access to books would.

Being an only child I envied Sapphire and Conor’s bond. I wanted to like Faro but found him quite obnoxious. I have high hopes for Elvira, his sister, who I met but didn’t get to know during this book. I’m hoping to get to know her in later books in the series. Maybe Faro will also grow on me in time.

One person that doesn’t need to grow on me is Granny Carne. I need an entire book devoted to her story.

“Some say she’s a witch”

While there’s an underlying message about marine conservation, what really hit home for me was how authentic Sapphire’s loss felt.

You know how the sea grinds down stones into sand, over years and years and years? Nobody ever sees it, it happens so slowly. And then at last the sand is so fine you can sift it in your fingers. Losing Dad is like being worn away by a force that’s so powerful nothing could resist it. We are like stones, being changed into something completely different.

Difficult topics can sometimes be watered down in children’s books and I loved that it wasn’t here.

The thought of Dad is always in my mind somewhere, like a bruise.

The impacts of this loss were evident throughout the story but none captured the effects of Sapphire’s pain to me as simply and clearly as this:

Mum thinks I go and see Katie, or one of my other friends, but I don’t. I feel cut off from them, because their lives are going on the same as ever, but mine has completely changed.

Although I haven’t experienced loss in the specific way that Sapphire and her family do in this book I could easily relate to Sapphire’s need to protect herself from additional pain:

“You’re like a – like a sea anemone. If anyone comes close, you shut yourself up tight.” “That’s how sea anemones survive,” I point out.

The way the author described scenes and emotions continually activated my senses:

Sometimes I think that if adult quarrels had a smell, they would smell like burned food.

It’s strange how characters you’ve only just met can get under your skin. Two days ago I’d never heard of Sapphire. Today I’m going to be asking my library to buy the rest of her story.

“Magic’s wild. You can’t put a harness on it, or make it do what you want. Even the best magic can be dangerous.”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

I wish I was away in Ingo,

Far across the sea,

Sailing over the deepest waters,

Where love nor care can trouble me …

Sapphire’s father mysteriously vanishes into the waves off the Cornwall coast where her family has always lived. She misses him terribly, and she longs to hear his spellbinding tales about the Mer, who live in the underwater kingdom of Ingo. Perhaps that is why she imagines herself being pulled like a magnet toward the sea. But when her brother, Conor, starts disappearing for hours on end, Sapphy starts to believe she might not be the only one who hears the call of the ocean. 

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