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REVIEW: Ink by Amanda Sun

 

On the heels of a family tragedy, Katie Greene must move halfway across the world. Stuck with her aunt in Shizuoka, Japan, Katie feels lost. Alone. She doesn’t know the language, she can barely hold a pair of chopsticks and she can’t seem to get the hang of taking her shoes off whenever she enters a building.

When Katie meets aloof but gorgeous Tomohiro, the star of the school’s kendo team, she is intrigued by him…and a little scared. His tough attitude seems meant to keep her at a distance, and when they’re near each other, strange things happen. Pens explode. Ink drips from nowhere. And unless Katie is seeing things, drawings come to life.

Somehow Tomo is connected to the kami, powerful ancient beings who once ruled Japan–and as feelings develop between Katie and Tomo, things begin to spiral out of control. The wrong people are starting to ask questions, and if they discover the truth, no one will be safe.

Katie never wanted to move to Japan–now she may not make it out of the country alive.

Dear Ms. Sun,

When offered the chance to read and review your book, I jumped at it. YA and paranormal usually aren’t my thing but this looked to stand out in the crowd of ho-hum. Set in Japan, with a Japanese hero and secondary characters plus drawings that move and come to life – and can attack people as Kami are unpredictable – this promised something unique.

Ink Amanda SunBut before the unique kicked in, some standard YA tropes needed to be established. Katie is an orphan whose mother died suddenly and whose father was never in the picture. With her grandfather fighting cancer, Katie gets sent to her aunt, an English language teacher in Japan. She feels isolated due to her lack of knowledge of Japanese – though she’s working hard on that – and the usual new-to-school lack of friends – though her circle of friends expands as the book continues.

Katie, Yuki, Tomohiro, Tanaka and the others sound like teenagers – a little sulky, a touch bravado-ish, sometimes over enthusiastic and at others painfully uncertain. Nothing goes beyond kisses and even that is considered daring and awkward but I didn’t need more as the connection between Katie and Tomohiro is well developed and shown.

So why would a senior and popular student take any interest in a younger Gaijin who frankly seems to initially stalk him? Because of her brashness. Tomohiro hides a terrible secret that he knows could get him killed and which leaves him fairly isolated despite his popularity. He pushes people away both to protect them and to keep others from using his feelings for anyone against him. Katie is the only person who isn’t afraid of the “tough guy” act Tomohiro affects and who pushes back and in doing so shows that she’s strong enough to finally be let into his life.

Katie is pushy at times. She knows Tomohiro is hiding something and is determined to discover what that is. What kept me from being slightly annoyed with her actions is that they are a great opportunity to show life in Shizuoka and how different school experiences are. Students cleaning the classrooms and restrooms after school? The wide variety of after school clubs? Proper etiquette towards teachers? How to welcome the annual cherry blossoms?” Ink” goes into all of this and I found it fascinating

One sweet thing about the story is the slowly building relationship between Katie and her Aunt Diane. Initially they’re almost strangers and still working out their grief over the loss of their mother/sister. Though Katie doesn’t pitch sullen fits, she doesn’t exactly match Diane’s sometimes uncertain efforts to fit her into life in Shizuoka. But their quiet efforts eventually pay off in some moving scenes of how much each comes to mean to the other.

The initial secret that Tomohiro tries to keep from Katie propels the first half of the book. Evading the villains who might try to use Tomohiro’s abilities carries us along further. But then suddenly a new threat emerges with a plan that lands the book firmly in conspiracy theory territory. The existence of more potential villains – or allies depending on how one views them – isn’t exactly from out of the blue but the sudden shift in scale from local gangsters to … well to what it’s changed to is very dramatic and verging on OTT.

The end of “Ink” comes at a point where immediate threats have been nullified but it’s obviously not the end of the story as several things still need to be explained or resolved. Who or what is Katie and why does the ink respond to and seek her? Will Tomohiro be able to control his powers, remain sane and stay out of the hands of those who wish to use him? Where will Katie ultimately end up living? Is there hope for a long term romance for Katie and Tomohiro? I’ll be staying tuned for the second book in the series. B

~Jayne

 

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

16 Comments

  1. Tanya
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 13:51:14

    I am buying this, but in book form. The cover is truly one of the most beautiful I have seen in a long, long time. And then there are the little flip book illustrations inside, on the lower portion of the pages, I think? So glad it got a B from you – I’m not hesitating any more.

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  2. Maggie
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 14:34:30

    The appendix at the end of the ebook drove me half insane. All the constant going back and forth did not make me a happy camper.

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  3. Meg
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 14:40:29

    I’m really excited to read this one.

    I just downloaded a free prequel, “Shadows,” from Amazon. I hope it’s as good as “Ink” is supposed to be!

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  4. Jia
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 15:10:17

    To be honest, I didn’t like this one. It’s not the worst multicultural book I’ve read and there are certainly more disastrous Japanese-based novels out there. Stormdancer, I have not forgotten and am STILL looking at you.

    The author did her research well but it is very much written from the POV of an outsider. And while I think the author’s cultural outsider status is mitigated by the fact that the protagonist is also an outsider, it made me deeply uncomfortable. Because I generally dislike reading from that perspective and this book very much reminded me why. That said, I thought a lot of the scenes you enjoyed (the sakura blossoms, the school clubs, the student chores along with other things like the love hotel and the praying for good grades at the temple) were lifted straight out of manga and Japanese dramas. Granted, I can see fans of manga and J-dramas loving those scenes for that very reason but those bits, combined with the outsider narrative, contributed to my discomfort.

    I also wish there’d been have explanation as to why a white girl from the US, with no apparent connection to Japan, is related to the kami. Especially when the kami are from Japanese culture and every other character associated with the kami in the book is Japanese. I realize Katie is an example of the Special Girl archetype (and a fairly decent one, to be fair) but Katie being “special” in the sense that she’s white but also connected to the kami made me deeply uneasy. All things considered, I honestly saw no reason why Katie had to be white. She could have been Japanese-American (let’s say yonsei, aka 4th generation) and the book could have still been written from an outsider perspective, depending on her family background was executed. She could have been biracial.

    That said, Katie’s father is absent so maybe there’s a connection through him somehow. But if that’s the case, I wish that connection hadn’t been saved for future books because the subtext in this book is not really a good one.

    I also spent the majority of the book thinking Katie was a stalker. That impression never went away, and it really bothered me at points. Calling Tomo multiple times, going to his house, following him all over the place… I don’t know. I just couldn’t get over it. I almost felt as if in the effort to make sure Katie has agency (versus some of the other doormat heroines of YA), her characterization went all the way to the other end of the spectrum and she took on a few traits that plague the asshole guys of the YA genre instead.

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  5. Jayne
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 18:12:20

    @Tanya: The e-arc that I read also had the illustrations – which are beautiful. And there are 2 different covers – one for the US and one for the UK editions.

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  6. Jayne
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 18:21:32

    @Meg: I haven’t read the prequel yet – I’ve been trying to get the rest of my July books read first – but I have it downloaded too. Honestly though, I’m not really expecting a great deal from it. Harlequin seems to be doing this with a lot of their books lately – I read one for 2 other books I’ve reviewed here – and while they were to some extent interesting, they felt choppy to me. If that’s all someone reads, they would probably be disappointed.

    I know the prequels serve to lure readers into buying the following novel but if someone decides they’re not interested in doing that, they will be left hanging. Personally I’d prefer to see a short story or novella that is a glimpse of the whole novel but more complete in and of itself.

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  7. Jayne
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 18:22:23

    @Maggie: You mean for the definitions of Japanese words/terms?

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  8. Jayne
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 18:46:17

    @Jia: I can see and understand the issues you have with it and some of them are why I gave it a B instead of a higher grade. Katie’s initial pushiness – and yes I mentally used the word stalker too – started to bug me. But I felt she had to push that hard to get past Tomo’s 10 foot thick barriers which he has a very good reason for building and maintaining. I was willing to cut the novel some slack because of what Tomo is trying to protect himself from.

    I don’t read manga or watch J-drama so the similarities sailed right over my head. Again I can understand that these might be a positive or negative to readers more familiar with those conventions. To me it is all fresh and new.

    I also wondered – very strongly! – how Katie could be tied to the kami. I’m willing to wait until the next book to see how this is resolved but it better be in a way that makes sense and isn’t a “and then a miracle occurred” wave a magic wand and get out of the painted corner.

    Katie’s outsider status worked for me as a means of explaining life in this Japanese city and the concept of the kami. I see your point that she could have been biracial or Japanese-American. Again, I’m waiting for the hoped for explanation in the next book. Yep, she’s a Special Girl but book 2 needs to back that up and give some concrete reasons why this set-up was chosen.

    I see your problems and I hear them but – and I know I probably shouldn’t do this but I did it anyway – I’m so tired of seeing books with blurbs about vampires, werewolves and zombies that I’m willing to cut it a bit of slack just because of the kami. We’ll see if the next book answers all this for me or tanks.

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  9. hapax
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 19:46:45

    @Jia:

    That said, I thought a lot of the scenes you enjoyed (the sakura blossoms, the school clubs, the student chores along with other things like the love hotel and the praying for good grades at the temple) were lifted straight out of manga and Japanese dramas

    I’m so glad you said this, because that’s immediately what I thought upon reading the review. However, all I know of Japanese culture is from those sources (and from my grandmother, who lived there for five years after WWII), so it’s not like I felt qualified to have an opinion.

    Would you categorize this as “appropriation”, or merely “wallpaper Japanese”? Or is that a distinction without a difference?

    ETA: And I understood the desire for something “different”, but gadzooks, I have been buried under YA fantasies in which teens suddenly discover that they are related to Greek / Egyptian / MesoAmerican / Celtic / Norse / Amerind / Aboriginal / YouNameIt pantheons, often with only the most tenuous of connections to the original culture. I am starting to long for the days when all a YA novel needed was a girl and her horse.

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  10. Jia
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 19:53:49

    @hapax: I would categorize this more as Wallpaper Japanese. Or maybe Tourist Travel Blog Japanese.

    To me, appropriation is more along the lines of Jay Kristoff’s Stormdancer.

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  11. John
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 22:07:08

    Having seen your view, Jayne, and Jia’s, I think I’ll still read INK and hopefully enjoy it for what it can provide me as a cultural outsider while keeping everything in mind about what it isn’t doing. Let’s hope the sequel actually answers questions – and I will admit that some YA authors actually do very well with answering questions in good ways with sequels. Others don’t. It’s a toss-up. I will say that the marketing for this book in terms of its cover is genius.

    @hapax: There are some YA books that actually work with cultures in a supernatural way that don’t feel like cultural appropriation, I recently *loved* Tessa Gratton’s THE LOST SUN. The Norse culture is steeped in every sentence of that story; the world is truly exceptional. Nnedi Okorafor’s AKATA WITCH is another, in that case creating an entire world around Nigerian folklore. The character is also an albino Nigerian girl born in America, so there’s a lot of cultural things to work through. AKATA WITCH also has a lot of humor in it. So those might work for you if you want something different that actually doesn’t feel like a load of bullshit.

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  12. Maggie
    Jul 11, 2013 @ 08:29:09

    @Jayne: Yes. Also, I was wondering exactly why it was necessary to have so many Japanese phrases and terms? Maybe a few sprinkled here and there would have been enough to impart an “authentic” feel for the setting.

    With that said, considering my experience with going to school overseas as a second gen Asian, I’m rather surprised Katie had such an easy time in an all-Japanese high school. Japan, as well as Korea, is still one of the most homogenized countries as far as race is concerned and foreigners or “gaikoku-jin” (dunno why she used Amerika-jin in the book. I can’t think of a single native who used that term…basically anyone who looks foreign is called gaikoku-jin which means foreign person) as they are otherwise known, are kind of shunned or considered a kind of side-show freak in a variety of settings, not excluding schools where being part of the “scene” is considered the norm and sticking out in any way is not “good.” I guess I’m surprised she was accepted, especially with how she was stalking Tomo. High school girls can be downright vicious and I would’ve found the book a hell of a lot more believable if Ms. Sun had touched upon the issues of ijime (bullying) with Katie.

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  13. Jia
    Jul 11, 2013 @ 10:00:48

    @Maggie: That was it! There was something that struck me as being off in Katie’s interactions with her classmates. That was it exactly. No bullying. No passive aggressiveness. No being treated as the “nail that needs to be hammered down.” Katie wasn’t being subtle in her stalking of Tomo, and I would have thought someone would have noticed — which surely would have gotten back to his ex-girlfriend?

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  14. Maggie
    Jul 11, 2013 @ 10:28:10

    @Jia: I’m really glad I wasn’t the only person who noticed this! I spent the last few years of my schooling in Korea and the only reason I wasn’t bullied was because I A: Looked Korean and B: spoke the language. In my last year of high school, we had a half Korean-half German girl transfer from New York. She didn’t speak any Korean and even though she was half Korean, her features were different enough to brand her as a foreigner.

    Now, at first, she was viewed as some kind of exotic animal and people loved being seen with her, talking to her, etc. This died a swift death after the first few weeks and things just went straight to hell for her. People started ignoring her, no one wanted to be seen with her and I heard some whacked rumors about her being “easy”. It was wrong, wrong, wrong, but no one could do anything about it and she kind of faded into the background. She wasn’t in my class so I don’t know what happened to her exactly, but I never saw her after the first month or so, so I assumed she moved schools.

    I’ve heard of the same thing happening in Japan as well, only on a larger scale. That Kate could get away with what she did and stalk Tomo but have no repercussions from the girls who really liked him, made little sense for me and, ultimately, the book became unreadable for me.

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  15. Jayne
    Jul 11, 2013 @ 12:56:17

    @Maggie: Good points and thanks for bringing them up. I do remember that the first scene in the book has Katie forgetting to get her shoes after school and being worried about doing something to make her so noticeable by her classmates which kind of made me think she had initially not had an easy time. And Yuki and Tanaka seem to be treating her like a novelty item. Perhaps this is all because she’s such a Special Girl. :grin: But it is strange that the former girlfriend never shows up again.

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  16. INK; it’s in their blood | Maree Anderson | Author
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 03:01:42

    [...] picked this one up from the library based on a Recommended review from Jayne on Dear Author. (You can read Jayne’s review of Ink here.) I thought DD might like it because she’s in her 4th year of Japanese at high school. And [...]

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