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Book: Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke. Translated from German by Anthea Bell. Scholastic, 2003.
Genre: Fantasy
Intended readership: Middle grades
Read: June 2012

Premise: Twelve-year-old Meggie’s father Mo is a bookbinder with a secret ability: when he reads aloud, things come out of their stories. Sometimes they’re people, like the villains Capricorn and Basta, and sometimes they’re things, like the treasure from Treasure Island. The catch is that something always disappears to balance out whatever appeared, as Mo finds out when he reads Capricorn, Basta, and Dustfinger (who’s not a villain but occasionally works with the other two) out of Inkheart and his wife vanishes into the story. Most of the plot of the novel revolves around Capricorn trying to get Mo to read other things out of various books for his nefarious purposes. By the end, Meggie discovers that she shares this ability and uses it to save the day.

Reactions: How meta: a book about books, where you read about reading. I really enjoyed reading it, though afterward I couldn’t figure out why it was so long. At times the narration seems to drag, and there are some scenes that could just as easily have been summarized when a character reappeared. All the same, I did enjoy it and would recommend it people who like a little bit of fantasy and a lot of book obsession in their YA lit.

There are daring adventures, but no sword fights. There’s magic, but no sorcerers or wizards (there are fairies, though). It’s all sort of halfway between being a metaphor for the power of reading and an actual story of unexplained magic. Meggie is a voracious reader, but rarely reads aloud. Mo never reads aloud, knowing what danger there is in the act, but he makes up stories to tell Meggie. Overall, I’d say the story was enjoyable but not as gripping or meaningful as I’d hoped. I’m not altogether too interested in reading the other two in the trilogy, though if they came my way I don’t think I’d pass them up. I quite liked most of the characters.

Favorite character: Dustfinger. Definitely Dustfinger. I spent a lot of the book being mad at him, but he’s sort of a sad character really, and not actually as malicious as he sometimes seems. He’s a long way from home, and everything is different in our world. There are no fairies or giants or trolls, and fire is less responsive even to his expert fingers. He makes a living as a fire eater, in circuses and busking in town squares, but he really wants to find a way home. Capricorn promises to send him home, so Dustfinger does the villain’s bidding and leads Mo to him. When he’s betrayed (gasp! by a villain!), he helps Meggie and Mo and Elinor (Meggie’s great-aunt) escape. He’s a conflicted soul, torn between his futile desire to return home and his guilty conscience for betraying Meggie.