Review: Ink by Amanda Sun

Ink
Amanda Sun

HarperTeen
Releases June 25, 2013
384 pages

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I looked down at the paper, still touching the tip of my shoe. I reached for it, flipping the page over to look.

Scrawls of ink outlined a drawing of a girl lying on a bench.

A sick feeling started to twist in my stomach, like motion sickness.

And then the girl in the drawing turned her head, and her inky eyes glared straight into mine.

On the heels of a family tragedy, the last thing Katie Greene wants to do is 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.

Then there’s gorgeous but aloof Tomohiro, star of the school’s kendo team. How did he really get the scar on his arm? Katie isn’t prepared for the answer. But when she sees the things he draws start moving, there’s no denying the truth: Tomo has a connection to the ancient gods of Japan, and being near Katie is causing his abilities to spiral out of control. If the wrong people notice, they'll both be targets.

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

I had no idea what to expect with Ink, but the idea of Japanese gods and living pictures that could potentially jump out of the page intrigued me. While the book did have lots of interesting Japanese mythology and a surprising mob tale of intrigue, it was heavily dependent on the fish-out-of-water story of Katie, who is suddenly and unexpectantly uprooted and shipped to Japan to live with her aunt after the tragic death of her mother. Because she’s unfamiliar with the language and culture, the book doesn’t have the same culture shock because it’s diffused through the view of someone else just as unfamiliar with the world around her as I would be in the same situation. I think having the protagonist really allowed me to dive into this story without feeling as though the environment held me at arm’s length.

But I feel like I’m babbling. Katie is a fun character if a little stupid at times. Despite her mother’s recent death and her world flipping upside down, she still has guts and determination, unwilling to roll over and accept any criticism that might come her way from being unfamiliar with local customs. She has a bad habit of running towards danger unaccompanied and without any adults having any idea where she’s gone. Running directionless in an unfamiliar city is bad enough when you can read the street sign and speak to those around you, but Katie has a bad habit of not thinking before diving after trouble.

Then there’s Tomohiro, who at first glance is a bit of a jerk, but even from the beginning, he’s framed as not all bad-as someone who is obviously hiding something important behind his arrogance and anger. The reveal of his secret is dragged out a little bit after it’s really obvious, but what happens after the reveal makes the lag worth it. Ink dragons and horses and crazy adventures ensue, all pieced together because of ink on a page. It doesn’t take long before Tomohiro is a suitable lead guy. I was especially fond of his delight in toying with the gossip-starved teenaged girls who followed his every move when he was anywhere near Katie. He’s kind of fun.

I didn’t expect the Yakuza to come into Ink, much less be one of the driving forces of the plot. They seemed a little weak compared to the fear and reputation that was built around them in the book as a whole. The rhetoric of the other group of adversaries was far more frightening than anything the gun-toting Yakuza goons could do. Toss in another cute Japanese boy for a love triangle and this book has just about everything in it. If it wasn’t for his turn at towards the end of the book, I might have had a hard time picking a boy to root for.

Overall Ink was a compelling new idea in YA with fantasy elements very well integrated into the real world. I loved seeing the culture that Amanda Sun is obviously well acquainted with and the glossary of Japanese phrases was well used by the end of my read. I had a bit of a difficult time picturing Tomohiro as something other than an anime cartoon character, but that’s my own problem and I didn’t really mind. The final few pages were pretty cheesy and struck me as selfish to the point where I docked Katie a few points on the “cool female protagonist” scale, but there is so many places this story can go that I’ll stick around for the ride.

 

I received a copy of this book through the Around the World ARC tour and have since passed it on to the next person in line. In return I present my honest opinion.