At the beginning of her final year in high school, Alex’s Dad is offered a research grant in Boston and arranges for Alex to stay with her Aunt Robin in Boreen Point, on Lake Cootharaba. Although Alex is sad to leave her friends at the yacht club in Sydney, she briefly entertains the thought that school life might be better. There is a chance that her new girl status might give her an air of mystery resulting in popularity. This fantasy is quickly dispelled on her first day when, despite many curious glances, no-one makes the effort to greet her, let alone start up a conversation or welcome her into their group.
Alex survives the loneliness of the first day by dreaming about the possibility of buying a yacht which was advertised as ‘a solid boat with a lot of potential’. When Alex sees Indigo Blue, she appraises that the work is significant but within her capabilities, and eagerly buys it with the money she was saving for a car. Although her life is in disarray and school is tough, Indigo Blue is a positive feature in her life. She pours her energy into restoring the yacht aided by Sam, the sailmaker’s apprentice. Despite Sam’s unusual appearance and mysterious ways, Alex enjoys working with him and they discover a mutual magnetic attraction that draws them together. When Aunt Robin meets Sam she instantly expresses her disapproval of the friendship and seems prejudiced against Sam, but refuses to explain the reasons behind her distrust. Alex is determined to prove her wrong.
Alex also begins to form a friendship with the shy Sophie, and her studious friends, cementing her place in the school hierarchy. As Alex and Sophie work on a history project about the sawmill ruins at Mill Point, they discover an old diary from 1874 with some missing pages. This incites their curiosity and they begin to search for more details of the elusive author, Eliza Wright, whose name is conspicuously absent from historical records. Their search uncovers more than they expected.
Indigo Blue is the first novel of Jessica Watson. Watson was sixteen years old in 2010 when she spent 210 days at sea to become the youngest person to sail nonstop, solo and unassisted, around the world. She was named Young Australian of the Year in 2011 and was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2012. She published the account of her adventure, True Spirit, in 2011. I was initially sceptical about Indigo Blue, but was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. Watson describes her own style of writing as ‘a peppering of real history’ to create a fictional tale. This is a good term to describe her style, which I really enjoyed reading. It is fresh and unique.
Indigo Blue is set in Boreen Point, a little coastal town in Queensland. Mill Point is the site of one of the earliest European settlements in the Noosa Region. This history is part of the foundation of the plot. Watson’s passion for boats and sailing is evident in her clear descriptions of sailing and the ocean. She has drawn on her experience in life to describe places, ideas and people, such as the patronising local boat broker and shipwright, John, who cannot believe a young girl can restore or handle a yacht. As a result there is an authenticity of the setting and flow of events which draws the reader into the story and helps visualise the events unfolding. This is the perfect backdrop for the element of fantasy that is woven through the story, and makes it almost seem plausible.
Indigo Blue is marketed as middle grade fiction. Although Alex is in year twelve, this story does not address any themes that would be unsuitable for middle grade readers. It would also appeal to many readers in the young adult group who enjoy tales about mythical creatures and the melding of fact and fantasy.