Author: Amanda Sun
Genre: YA contemporary, PNR, UF
Publication Date: June 25, 2013 (Harlequin Teen – North America)
Source: Traded-for ARC/NG review copy
Summary: 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.
☆: 4.5/5 stars – an explosive debut you won’t want to put down!
Review: Finally, guys, a YA book that gets Japanese language use (and culture) correct! I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. “Ink” is a fantastic story of a grieving girl lost in translation in a country she never thought she’d end up in, a boy trying to deal with a destiny that threatens to eat him alive, and a love that isn’t an insta-love. I think everyone’s going to find something to like about “Ink” – especially since it’s illustrated (and there’s a little flipbook sort of thing that’s going on at the lower corner of each page, which is pretty neat). I can’t wait until the novella, and I really can’t wait until book 2. Definitely one of my favorites of 2013 so far, “Ink” is an explosive debut, and author Amanda Sun is definitely one to watch.
My only issue with this book: the linguistic glossary. It wasn’t needed. I feel like Sun could have put the translation of each word she used in Japanese in italics or parentheses without the need for a glossary in the back. As I do speak Japanese, I didn’t need the glossary, but after talking to others who don’t speak it and who did have the issue of having to flip back and forth between where they were in the book and the glossary…well, apparently it was a bit distracting for them to say the least. And I can definitely see that happening.
Otherwise? While I’ve never visited Shizuoka, I can honestly say that Sun painted a very vivid picture of it, and overlaid the world of the Kami on top of that made for a very engrossing, rich world. Sun absolutely nailed it when it came to Japanese culture – vacations in summer, to the start of the school year in spring, with hanami and cherry blossoms and tsuyu (rainy seasons) and everything in between. The pacing is snappy enough that you do get to linger a bit on all of these worldly elements, but at the same time, too long so you don’t miss all of the action. The world pretty much built itself, alongside the overlay of the world of the Kami, and it felt very effortless to sink into. The sensory imagery and language really enhances that, and Sun is very, very good at showing over telling, and that was a delight.
The characters. I LOVE Katie and Tomo – they’re great MCs, very layered and complex (especially in Tomo’s case, poor guy) and I love that their relationship progressed very reluctantly and slowly, and with a great deal of doubt along the way. And the rest of the main cast was also great as well – Aunt Diane felt very much like that crazy aunt everyone has, yet in a good place to help Katie grieve and get used to her new circumstances. I did like Jun, but at the same time, I did feel like we did get the most information and development with his character only at the climax/resolution part of the book. I also wasn’t quite a fan of the almost love triangle with Jun/Katie/Tomo, but I was glad that Sun didn’t go that route (and hope she sticks to Katie and Tomo in future books).
What could have been explained just a little better: Amaterasu and the creation myths of Japan, outside of how the Imperial family relates to them. While this was meticulously researched (and YAY for that!), I do feel like Sun could have thrown in the actual creation myth aside from Amaterasu (summarized, of course – as it can get a little long), and how all of that connects back into the world of the Kami and the throne. Amaterasu isn’t just the only one in the Shinto canon, so I’m hoping other major Kami make appearances in future books. But what we got was good enough to start, and that’s what matters.
And what’s most important: Sun did live in Japan. She knows what she’s talking about. She did a ton of research. And while admittedly, some of Japanese culture (dramas/tv shows/anime/manga/etc) can be an acquired taste, I can see why so many early reviewers have panned this book. The glossary bit didn’t exactly help, either. But what a lot of reviewers don’t understand is that this book is written from a gaijin (foreigner)’s eyes – and Japan isn’t always kind to foreigners. Katie gets a lot of flack (albeit in subtle ways a lot of the time), so I can see why people have been claiming this book has been written “for weeaboos”. I challenge them, and say that until you’ve actually lived in Japan as a foreigner and get used to that constant subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) flack you get as a foreigner? You really can’t say anything. Japan is not a land of sunshine and rainbows and anime characters, and Sun shows that very well here, even if she does use magical realism in order to do so.
Final verdict? If you’re looking for an authentic, albeit magical realism way of experiencing Japan from your armchair in book format? “Ink” is definitely for you. On my best of 2013 list already, “Ink” is out June 25, 2013 from Harlequin Teen in North America, so be sure to check it out then! And man, does this book make me want to go back to Japan. I’m really homesick for it now.