I chose to review the young adult paranormal Ink because of its unusual setting – Japan. Indeed, author Amanda Sun does a fabulous job evoking the feeling of being in an environment and culture wholly unlike my own. And while the paranormal aspect sometimes confused me, overall I really enjoyed this story, going so far as to spend most of a beautiful spring Sunday unable to put the book down.
Katie Greene’s world has been completely turned upside down. After the death of her beloved mother, Katie goes to live with her aunt in Shizuoka, Japan. She barely knows the language, she doesn’t understand the culture, and even her blond hair marks her as an outsider. Most baffling of all, perhaps, is the behavior of her school’s kendo star, Yuu Tomohiro. Katie first encounters Tomo when he’s in the process of breaking up with his current girlfriend. While his words and actions seem cruel, Katie notices pain in his eyes that suggests maybe his bad-boy image is just an act.
The more time she spends with Tomo, the more intrigued Katie becomes. She’s both attracted to him and afraid of him. One thing she knows for sure, something about this guy is different. Whenever he’s around, drawings seem to move. Ink drips from mysterious places. Pens spontaneously explode. When finally Tomo lets Katie into his world, the truth is beyond anything she ever could have imagined.
Tomo is a Kami, one of the ancient spirits of Japanese legend, and his unique power enables him to bring drawings to life. However, it seems that something about Katie intensifies Tomo’s gift, which has never been very stable to begin with. Often his animated drawings turn on him, and others have suffered brutal attacks. Tomo fears for Katie’s safety if they remain together.
Dangers lurk in other corners as well. Tomo’s best friend, Ishikawa, has gotten involved with the Japanese mafia, and he suspects that Tomo has skills that might be used by the Yakuza. Katie and Tomo struggle to keep his secret while Tomo learns to control something inside of himself that he fears may be dark and malicious.
Ink begins a bit slowly, with Katie spending a lot of the first third of the book stalking Tomo. But once she learns his secret, the action picks up considerably. The concept behind Tomo’s powers – something about ink that I’m still not quite grasping – is intriguing, and the danger his inability to control himself can pose is very real. While the Japanese mafia angle was a bit far-fetched, the fundamental need for Tomo and Katie to keep his secret is real enough.
Ms. Sun weaves Japanese words and expressions into the narrative making the setting very authentic. Thankfully, she’s a master at organically inserting translations so that I understood everything. Adding even more authenticity was Sun’s employment of the various naming conventions used in Japan, a system that is far more complex and formal than anything I’ve encountered as an American. And I was intrigued by the foods that Katie must learn to love, such as melon flavored ice cream, shrimp chips, and miso soup for breakfast. Far from surface window dressing, Sun uses Japan and the Japanese culture almost as an additional character in the story.
I do wish she’d spent some time explaining the Japanese art of calligraphy more deeply, because Tomo’s powers can be influenced by the types of inks he uses, and some important items, like inksticks and inkstones, were never fully explored, thus causing me some confusion. Too, many times Katie witnesses ink pooling or dripping from surfaces and then disappearing, and I couldn’t quite visualize what was happening. However, throughout the book are the sketches that Tomo draws, and they are enchanting.
Ink does bring to mind the YA paranormal to end all paranormals, Twilight. Katie becomes obsessed with Tomohiro even as he pushes her away to no avail. She knows something about him is different and maybe even dangerous. And Tomo wants Katie like he’s never wanted anyone before, but he fears his power may hurt her. It all sounds very familiar. However, I have a feeling that many of today’s paranormals hang off a similar framework, and the unusual setting and paranormal aspects that Sun employs keeps her version fresh and wholly unique.
If I have one complaint, it’s Sun’s tendency to provide a running commentary on the physical reactions Katie is experiencing. At any given moment her blood is running cold or she’s shaking or her skin is prickling. Every other paragraph Katie endured some form of bodily fit that distracted me from the dialogue or narrative at hand and made me wonder if she suffered from a nervous disorder.
Ink is the beginning of a series, and while the ending provides some measure of closure, there is much left to be answered in the sequels. I am looking forward to finding out how Tomo and Katie deal with their situation as well as hopefully getting those answers. If you are looking for a well-told story set in an unusual location, jump on board this train as it’s pulling out of the station.