Friday, February 13, 2009

Inkheart

Title: Inkheart

Series: Inkheart Trilogy

Author: Cornelia Funke

Genre: Mid-grade (8-12) Magical Realism

Excerpt from “A Stranger in the Night,” Chapter 1 of Inkheart:

Rain fell that night, a fine, whispering rain. Many years later, Meggie had only to close her eyes and she could still hear it, like tiny fingers tapping on the windowpane. A dog barked somewhere in the darkness, and however often she tossed and turned Meggie couldn’t get to sleep.

The book she had been reading was under her pillow, pressing its cover against her ear as if to lure her back to its printed pages. “I’m sure it must be very comfortable sleeping with a hard, rectangular thing like that under your head,” her father had teased the first time he found a book under her pillow. “Go on, admit it, the book whispers its story to you at night.”

“Sometimes, yes,” Meggie had said. “But it only works for children.” Which made Mo tweak her nose. Meggie had never called her father anything else.

That night—when so much began and so many things changed forever—Meggie had one of her favorite books under her pillow, and since the rain wouldn’t let her sleep she sat up, rubbed the drowsiness from her eyes, and took it out.

A villain escapes from a book and a twelve-year-old girl who loves books must stop him from releasing a more dangerous foe yet.

The Craft: In many ways, it is difficult to analyze the writing of Inkheart. It is a translation into English from the original German, and no matter how good the translation, it will be never quite as good as the original. However, some things aren’t affected.

Like the premise: If you love books, if you have ever fallen in love with a set of characters so much that you wish you could meet them—this story will instantly capture your imagination.

Accordingly, the cast of Inkheart is colorful and varied, a mish-mash of the realistic and the fantastic. More than that, each character has his own quirks, motivations, strengths, and weaknesses, making a believable and complex group.

The plot is not quite as strong as the characters, but it still holds its own. Though not a page-turner, the tension is very much there and increasing, with plenty of unexpected bends in the road.

The climax is very satisfying, but the end and some of the character arcs feel incomplete—the hope-for redemption of some characters is missing. However, this is the first novel of a trilogy, and I suspect that many of the undone elements come into play in later books.

The Content: Inkheart is a mixed bag when it comes to content.

On one hand, it carries a dark edge, despite all the humor. The violence gets intense in a couple spots and there is some swearing. The text also makes it clear that the characters have no belief any god—or devil for that matter.

But on the other hand, there are some very powerful portrayals of family, defending of home, love, and self-sacrificing heroism. The main protagonist, Meggie, also does much growing up as she discovers the great responsibilities that come with powerful gifts.

Then there is the magical element itself—the reading of characters into our world. The book doesn’t explain the gift’s origin—not surprising with the lack of belief in God—but it appears only partially controllable. For while the reader can determine if he reads out loud and how he does so, he appears unable to control what exactly comes out or what goes in. So the magical element itself is borderline.

Summary: The swearing, dark edge, and borderline magic probably makes Inkheart ill-suited for most 8-12 year-olds, at least for reading alone. However, the book’s style lends itself for reading together as a family, in which case allowances could be made. Teens and adults with good discernment and fewer personal limitations in magic would also probably enjoy this story.

Rating: Writing—3, Content—2, Overall—3.3

Find Inkheart here.

2 comments:

KEANAN BRAND said...

A friend gave me Inkheart for Christmas (I'm always collecting books to read during Story Time to the kids where I work), but I haven't read it yet. Maybe that's a good thing! I had no idea about the swearing or the (lack of) spiritual content. Thanks for the heads-up.

Rachel Starr Thomson said...

I saw the movie a few weeks ago and loved it. The story may have an agnostic background, but I found all sorts of truth parallels in it. Grin--God is, like Lewis said, very unscrupulous. I'd like to read the book eventually.