Quill and Quire

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Inkling

by Kenneth Oppel; Sydney Smith (ill.)

Late one night a blob of ink rises from Mr. Rylance’s sketchbook. The ink leaves the pages completely, leaps off the desk into the comic artist’s studio, and then slips into the bedroom of his son, Ethan, where it hides in a pile of textbooks. There, it slurps the ink off the pages until the blot grows into a strange, sentient entity. The next morning, Ethan finds the books partly erased and comes face to face with the talking blob. The boy names it Inkling.

Before Inkling came along, Ethan was panicking about a graphic-novel group project at school. But his new buddy provides the help he needs. Inkling also becomes the pet Ethan’s sister, Sarah, so desperately longs for and provides Ethan’s father, who has been struggling to create his next book, with inspiration as well. When Inkling is suddenly abducted by a jealous classmate, it sends the family reeling and forces them to come to grips with their recent trauma (the death of the kids’ mom two years ago). By the time Inkling returns to Mr. Rylance’s sketchbook, they are all changed forever.

This masterful novel is funny, sad, and profound all at once, with lively black-and-white illustrations by Sydney Smith. Kenneth Oppel (Silverwing; The Nest) has created many unusual protagonists during his stellar career, but his inventiveness reaches a whole new level with Inkling, an inkblot that is fully and vividly alive.

Comically, Inkling adopts the phrasing of whatever book he has recently gobbled up; after eating Anne of Green Gables, he claims to be “IN THE DEPTHS OF DESPAIR” and while consuming The BFG, he declares “I IS HAVING A FROTHSOME ADVENTURE!” And, profoundly, Inkling helps the family become unstuck. Dad is struggling to be both a competent single parent and working artist; he forgets things and sometimes sleeps all day. But exuberant and kind Inkling – who is a piece of the mind and soul of the artist whose psyche gave him life – reveals a way forward. Oppel has created a tender story about art, love, loss, and healing.