By Amanda Sun
*Moderate Spoiler Alert!*
IF YOU are planning to buy this book, a print version is highly recommended, just to run your fingers over the cover’s gritty texture and to feast your eyes on the original artwork in the most unexpected of places as you flip through the pages. The gorgeous art makes Ink an immersive reading experience, and for the most part, the writing lives up to the sketches. However, the heroine’s lack of agency and confused sense of place in the plot created an awkward hole that oftentimes threw me out of the storyline.
After her mother’s death, Katie Greene moves across the globe to live with her aunt in Shizuoka, Japan. Amanda Sun brings the city to life with attention to detail (slippers worn indoors) as well as heavenly descriptions of the food (I needed gyoza, ramen, or udon STAT after reading this book!). And oh, when it’s cherry blossom time, the beautiful imagery exuded a timelessness that suspended all urgencies and filled your mind with softly-fallen pink blossoms. The author mentions she’s lived in Japan before, and it does feel like she has great enthusiasm for its people and a high commitment to accuracy. Likewise, in a YA marketplace saturated with every reinvention of Greek/Roman mythology or Western European folklore that you can think of, I was thrilled to find a book based on Japanese lore. Paper gods? How unique does that sound!
Katie Greene is immersed in a total Japanese-speaking high school, where she feels like an awkward outsider, fumbles with chopsticks, and repeatedly mentions that she’s had little connection with Japan before this—although somehow after just five months, she can speak and understand Japanese on an extremely high level. I half-expected her to be able to pick up a newspaper and flip through those difficult Kanji characters, no problem! Yes, I was a little skeptical of the ease at which she picked up the new language—but hey, how else is the plot going to advance with her mysterious bad-boy crush, the notorious Tomohiro?
I liked Tomohiro as a lead. He does kendo, is pretty sarcastic but funny, and of course, houses a dangerous secret that is fast alienating him from everyone he cares about. Despite Tomohiro’s warning for her to stay away from him, Katie is drawn to this rumored baby daddy, yakuza-affiliated dude, and spends the first half of the book stalking or staring at him (maybe she’s not so confident having a normal conversation in Japanese after all).
I suppose this is my biggest problem with Katie: she’s hinted to be more than the average foreigner—she’s kind of like a power amplifier, a job usually delegated to inanimate objects in fantasy books—but being a person who amplifies other peoples’ powers doesn’t exactly advance the plot or prove exciting to read about. Basically, she’s just there to be Tomohiro’s girl and cheerleader, to talk him down when he gets too upset, and there’s nothing I hate more than a heroine who is needlessly dependent on others to defend herself. Don’t get me wrong, Tomohiro’s power and his future role among the Kami sounds super exciting to read about, but I wish Katie had come into her own more in this book. Having some sort of deeper cultural or family connection to Japan would also be nice to explain *why* she has this special-ness.
I’m definitely willing to give the second book, Rain, a try when it hits the shelves. After all, even though this book felt like a big set-up introducing readers unfamiliar with Japan to the setting and mythology, it did introduce a potential badass villain, and I’m sure there’ll be more phenomenal artwork. Who knows, even Katie might grow on me.
Recommended for fans of: Colleen Houck (ah, that’s who Katie reminds me of—she is a total Kelsey Hayes, from the Tiger’s Curse series), Kiersten White
Upcoming Book Review: Sanctum, by Sarah Fine