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Ingrid and the Wolf

by André Alexis

Eleven-year-old Ingrid goes to Queen Elizabeth Public School in Toronto by day and awaits her parents’ return from work in the evening. Into this narrow existence, a letter from her hitherto unknown grandmother drops like a thunderbolt. The Countess Liliane Montesquieu von Puffdorf di Turbino de la Louve des Balazs has summoned her granddaughter to Europe. A plane ticket later, we are in an Old World of castles, dungeons, an aged family retainer afflicted with “laringio-dorsitis” (a whack on the back gets him talking), and a labyrinth inhabited by a wolf. All true members of the Balazs family have proven themselves by negotiating the labyrinth. Now it is Ingrid’s turn.

Alexis’s first adult novel, Childhood, was exquisitely written and undeniably dark. Ingrid and the Wolf, his wonderful first book for children, also has darkness aplenty, but it’s the kind to send delicious chills down a young reader’s spine. The Trinidadian-born writer never sounds a wrong note; he could easily have sprung from Transylvania or some kingdom of the Brothers Grimm. Among the book’s many strengths is its narrative voice: knowing, witty, raising suspense at the right junctures and reassuring fears at terrifying ones. Aficionados of Snicket, Rowling, and Dahl will feel that they’re in good storytelling hands.

Ingrid is an easy child to admire. Picked on in school, she stubbornly endures. She speaks her mind and handles the labyrinth with aplomb. What takes the book up a notch is her complex relationship with the wolf. Her return to the labyrinth to make good on a promise shifts the book from a clever tale to one of psychological depth and resonance.