Review: Ink by Amanda Sun
Release date: June 25th, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Rating: Good for fans of manga, anime, kdramas, Japanese culture, and paranormal. Not so good for those who can't tolerate a bit of stalking in their fictional romances. I'm pretty torn.
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.
The cover: SO BEAUTIFUL. And artistic. And unique. And my god, if this isn't one of the prettiest ARCs I've ever gotten my hands on. There are gorgeous full-page drawings, and little flip-book birds and things in the bottom corners. I'm sure the hardcover is absolutely stunning.
The story: The moment I first heard about this book, months and months ago, I knew I had to read this. I love books set in other countries, and I love art, so a book about Japanese teens who can bring ink drawings to life just sounded like it was too good to be true. While I think Amanda Sun could have executed her brilliant concept a bit better, I ended up quite enjoying this anime-like read (SERIOUSLY, Hayao Miyazaki should get his hands on this, because MY GOD would it make a brilliant Studio Ghibli film).
But since my brain is a little confused on some of the finer elements, I'll break things down to make it a little easier.
The good: Japan
Amanda Sun did an AMAZING JOB of teaching me all about a culture and a country I know nothing about. It's clear she knows exactly what she's talking about (though, again, I wouldn't know), and since she's lived in Japan, this makes sense. I've never read a YA set in contemporary Japan before, and I found the setting endlessly fascinating. Sun also includes a glossary of Japanese terms, which, yes, I had to flip to so often that I had to use two bookmarks--one set permanently in the glossary for easy flipping--and that got a little irritating. But I also love glossaries, and I learned stuff. I like learning stuff.
The bad: the romance
Okay, this is a little unfair. The romance isn't all terrible. In fact, if you're a fan of anime/manga, you'll see a lot of the same elements present in Ink that get used in Japanese and other East Asian entertainment. The new girl with a tragic past who sticks out like a sore thumb. Mysterious, dangerous, too-good-looking-to-be-allowed boy at the center of a million rumors. And a whole lot of mutual stalking and intense conversations about how daaaaangerous the boy is (which, admittedly, is true). I thought Katie and Tomo were pretty cute, but they also never behaved like normal rational people. And they were probably not the healthiest of relationships, and honestly, had this taken place in, say, the Pacific Northwest, I'd be grumbling about them quite a bit. But somehow it works in Japan.
The good: mythology, magic, and ART!
The magic here is so unique and wonderful and incorporates a lot of Japanese history into it. I've never read a book about the kami before, nor about drawings that can sort of come to life, nor about... well, I won't tell you what Katie's part in this is, but it's awesome and creepy and crazy. And as someone who loves to draw, I totally fell in love with the parts of this novel that dealt with Tomo's artistic ability, and how that coincides with his ability to do really strange things with his art.
The meh: the plot and the writing
Every now and then Sun will throw in a pretty stunning metaphor, and some of the descriptions of Japan (particularly the cherry blossoms. I WANT SO BADLY TO SEE THAT SOMEDAY) were downright lush. But some of the dialogue felt stilted at times, and I felt like the writing could have used one last polish. As for the plot... well, actually, a lot of it was pretty interesting. Without giving much away, there are REALLY BAD GANSTERS involved, and less bad people who want to save Tomo and Katie, and Tomo and Katie make a LOT of bad decisions, and there's a BIG CHARACTER REVEAL which is quite blindingly obvious. Again, none of it is really bad, per se. I just feel like, had Sun made some difference choices, it could very easily have all been better.
The meh: the characters
I could never really decide how I felt about Katie and Tomo. Tomohiro was, obviously, a total assface, but sometimes he'd be really adorable and manga-ish and blush. He and Katie had some really adorable, bumbling scenes in the beginning of their relationship that made me chuckle. He's also very much a kdrama pretty boy, with dyed, overlong hair, which I love. I enjoyed watching him agonize over his strange and frightening powers. I ALSO LOVED THIS LINE, which Ashleigh pointed out in her review:
"I can't keep you in the dark and protect you at the same time" (ARC p. 156)
I HAVE NEVER SEEN A BOY SAY THIS IN A PARANORMAL ROMANCE. How utterly freaking refreshing. But he also has his cruel moments, which, honestly, were difficult for me to reconcile. Katie was even harder for me to figure out. The best Katie moments by far were when a) strange, inky shenanigans are afoot that have to do with Tomo. So what does she do? Marches straight up to Tomo and says, "EXPLAIN THESE SHENANIGANS, PLEASE." Again. This does not ever happen. And b) when she calls Tomo out on his douchehattery. Which is necessary quite a lot.
But Katie also suffers from Too Stupid to Live syndrome, and she's got a raging case of stalker-itis, and even though she's suffering from the loss of her mom, I never felt her grief enough. So while I liked Katie well enough, and she served as a pretty decent heroine, the jury's still mostly out on her.
The verdict: I have none. Sorry! This is one of those books where I'll constantly be waffling back and forth. Generally, though, my opinion is pretty positive. I certainly enjoyed reading Ink, and I'm excited to read the sequel. Also, now I need to go to Japan ASAP. Or at least watch some manga to tide me over.