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Inkling: 12/25/18


Inkling by Kenneth Oppel is a story of grief and the long hard recovery personified. The book opens with a spot of ink in a graphic novelist's sketchpad coming to life from all the recently rejected drawings and ideas.

Ethan, the son of the graphic novelist, has a group assignment at school that he can't escape. It's a comic book and he's been stuck with doing the initial storyboards and panels. The problem is, he can't draw.

So it's Ethan who at first to discover the living blob of ink. He's the one to name it. He's the one who feeds it the ink of the printed word and illustrations. It's Ethan who first exploits Inkling, getting it to help him on his homework.

Then there is Sarah, Ethan's sister. She was born with Down Syndrome. She speaks of herself in the third person. What she wants more than anything is a dog, even though she likes to scold animals. Inkling for the time being can fill that need, taking on a new name, Lucy.

The father, though, wallowing in his grief for his recently deceased wife, hasn't managed to write a new book or comic in months. He's weeks overdue on his assignment. He wants to use Inkling to write his new book because he's too scared — too depressed — to face his grief and to push through his creative block.

Beyond the story of avoiding grief through the exploitation of a magical creature, there is the horror side to the story. What happens if Inkling is fed too much? What happens if he is given nothing but violence and horror to read/consume? What happens if artists are no longer needed?

My one complaint with Inkling is in the characterization of the the publisher's daughter. She happens to be the same age as Ethan and happens to go to the same school. She even happens to be in the same class. She's also apparently spent her entire short life so far bullying Ethan. She has decided from the get-go that both Ethan and his father can't draw. Now that suddenly he appears to be able to, she has made up her mind to discover the reason for his sudden "skill."

I understand the need for a plot device to bring the father out of his funk and to get him and Ethan on the same side. But in a book with so few females, why do they all have to be the other? There is the dead mother. There is the sister with Down Syndrome. And there is the bully/antagonist.

Four stars

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