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A Reader of Fictions: Review: Ink

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Friday, July 19, 2013

Review: Ink

The Paper Gods, Book 1

Author: Amanda Sun
Pages: 384
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: June 18, 2013
Read: June 14-18, 2013
Source: For review from YA Books Central

Description from Goodreads:
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.

First Sentence: "I made it halfway across the courtyard before I realized I was still wearing my school slippers."

I really did not expect to like Ink. Obviously, I did when I requested the book (Japan! Fantasy! That cover!), but reviews started pouring in and almost all were negative and listed the sorts of reasons I generally agree with, like relationship dynamics and instalove. Here I am, though, having really liked Ink, almost loved it, in spite of all of that. While I can see why a lot of my trusted friends haven't enjoyed it, I had a ton of fun reading it and, minus some hiccups on the romance side of things, thought it was a strong novel besides.

To explain this disparity between my opinion and those of others, I have to explain just how much of a nerd I am. In 2008, while interning at a public library, I picked up a love for manga, which has since bloomed into a love for anime and kdrama. Even before that, Asian culture fascinated me, but now it's verging (if we lessen my crazy) on obsession. There are a lot of upsetting elements in the average kdrama/manhwa/anime/manga/jdrama. Men tend to be dominant; women weak and easy to tears. Boyfriends tend to be overly physical, verging on abusive, with their girlfriends. I see this, but, for some reason, it's not as much of an obstacle to my enjoyment as it is in American pop culture. Now, I'm not saying that the romance is necessarily like this in Ink, but I'm trying to explain that my standards are subtly different for the stories set in this other culture.

For those of you who are big fans of manga (which will be my shorthand for all those permutations listed above), Ink is delightful. Amanda Sun peppers the text with those classic scenes to be found in almost any shoujo manga: the wrist grab, the boy carrying the girl on his bike, the close stares that don't end in kisses but leave the heroine a blushing mess, the yakuza, the sakura. There were so many moments that made me laugh giddily because I recognized them from pop culture. Ink really does read like a manga, which is made of win.

The premise, too, is fascinating, and I really think Sun does a marvelous job with it. I was impressed with her writing in general, but her descriptions of the ink coming alive really do burst off the page. In fact, her love for Japan, for kendo, for art, and for Japanese history really do shine through. Her twist on the mythology of the kami, Japanese gods really worked, and seemed pretty sensitive to Japanese culture thus far; I am so glad Katie, a white girl from the US was not a kami. Also, the plot takes a Death Note sort of turn near the end, which is going to become more of a factor in later books I think, that makes me want to take a chip and eat it...while cackling malevolently.

Katie does stalk Tomohiro quite a bit in the beginning, but, even that, I'm okay with, for the most part. She's a bit of a creeper, but she does have reason to be curious: she saw his pictures moving and ink dripping seemingly from nowhere. Plus, she was really homesick and lonely, and the mystery of what was going on with Tomohiro was a good distraction. Getting caught up in that is what helps her transition from a foreigner to someone who really belongs. Once she gets more involved in life there, her Japanese improves much faster and so does her general quality of life.

About the romance, I really wouldn't categorize it as instalove personally. For one thing, Katie and Tomohiro really do spend a fair amount of time together, and time elapses between their initial meetings and their declarations of love. They do move too fast once they start the relationship, and do the whole inexplicably drawn to each other thing, though. However, I'm willing to mostly let that slide, since Katie and Tomo do actually have chemistry and are occasionally quite adorable together, like when Tomo blushes.  I won't say I'm shipping them hard, but I don't hate them as a couple either.

The downside of their relationship was how serious their bond became. They do the whole "I'm ready to sacrifice myself for you" and "can't live without you" thing, which is really getting old. I really don't think most teens are this willing to die for love. Not only that, but the dialogue at these points always gets so hackneyed and melodramatic. Tomo definitely tries to do the manly keep Katie in the dark and protect her thing sometimes, but, what saved this book for me, Katie doesn't let him. Both Katie and Tomo know about the imperfections of the other, and they call each other on their bad habits. Katie calls Tomo out several times for not telling her things or for being a jerk, and Tomo does the same when Katie keeps stalking him. They're accepting one another's bad qualities, not unaware of them. Even if Tomo tries all that masculine nonsense, Katie doesn't let him. Though I don't approve of a lot of Katie's decisions, they are at least real choices, and not her being forced one way or another by other people in her life.

Ink turned out to be a fantastic book, despite my expectations to the contrary. If book two were available now, I would not hesitate to read it right away. I highly recommend this one to fans of Japanese or Korean pop culture!

Rating: 3.5/5

Favorite Quote:
"'It doesn't matter what they do to me,' he said. 'It might even be better if they—stop me. But I need to know you're safe.'
     'Oh, and so what you need is so important?' I spat, but really I was shaking at what he'd said. More like what he hadn't quite said. 'How can I know you're safe if I'm not here to save your pretty ass?'"

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Soooo we posted a review for the same book on the same day... even though I think you liked this a bit more than I did. Surprisingly I was also fine with Katie's stalking in the beginning; I just found how the bumped into each other literally every day a bit too convenient for my liking, and that the romance escalated too quickly, too. No denying Ink had an awesome premise, though.

July 19, 2013 at 10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah! I just came from reading Meg's review, and it is so amazing to see the contrast between the two. Admittedly, I am not a manga fan at all. My best friend is, and although she took her time to introduce me to it, I never quite got the hung of it. It is interesting that you did not classify the romance as instalove. I do not know how I would react to the relationship, but at least it was founded to you. What I look forward to is Sun's descriptions of the personified drawings though!

July 19, 2013 at 10:19 AM  
Blogger Jaz said...

I'm a huge fan of Japanese and Korean culture too and yet I just couldn't stand a lot of the things in Ink :/

Amanda's writing is GORGEOUS but the insta-love (for me it was insta-love) and scary "I'll die for you" declarations really made me annoyed. And I really hated Katie's personality :(

I'm SO glad you liked this though! I love the world building and descriptions in this.

July 19, 2013 at 10:51 AM  
Blogger roro said...

i have seen great reviews and reviews that shredded ink to bits. tnx for the review christina. i still want to read ink but not in the near future


July 19, 2013 at 11:00 AM  
Blogger fakesteph said...

YES!!! This is on my pile for school break! (less than a week to go!!!!)

July 19, 2013 at 11:00 AM  
Blogger Alexia Boesen said...

Like you I had been really interested in this one until the reviews started pouring in. Then I got a little apprehensive.Knowing that you actually really enjoyed it has made me excited as we tend to see eye to eye on the majority of books.

July 19, 2013 at 11:09 AM  
Blogger Alessandra said...

Now I really want to read this.

July 19, 2013 at 2:19 PM  
Blogger brandileigh2003 said...

I too love the premise and the story! Glad it pleasantly surprised you

July 19, 2013 at 2:43 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this one. I have been seeing a lot of negative reviews and I was getting a little worried. I'm a fan of manga and I'm glad to hear that Ink reads like one. I'll definitely check it out.

July 19, 2013 at 4:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I WAS NOT EXPECTING THIS. I kind of expected you to dislike it simply because I really liked it (that's how we work lol), but I'm glad you enjoyed it! I totally agree with her descriptions of the ink. It's a concept that's difficult to imagine, but I think she explained it quite well!

July 19, 2013 at 8:10 PM  
Blogger Lilian said...

*GASP* HOW DARE YOU LIKE THIS DESPITE INSTALOVE! *wags finger* Just kidding, just kidding.

I am very surprised you liked this one.

Even though I am a manga fan (and I love my Asian dramas)...I don't think INK will be for me. I don't think I can stomach the whole "I WILL DIE FOR YOU!" thing in teen romances. And I fear a that the Japanese dialogue will end up like Stormdancer. A book I TRIED to read. But the whole japanese thing added more confusion for me than intrigue.

July 20, 2013 at 3:38 AM  
Blogger Charlotte @ Gypsy Reviews said...

I'm glad you liked it! I was quite turned off by the relationship to like this but I really enjoyed how Sun injected her experiences in Japan into the book. It was rich and full of fantastic things about the Japanese culture. Even though I didn't really like it, the book still stuck with me so I'm still drawn to it despite that haha. Fantastic review Christina!

July 20, 2013 at 7:27 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yeah, I really don't know why some of that didn't bother me more, but it really didn't. I also really liked the writing, except when it came to the romance portions, which were gross and sappy.

July 20, 2013 at 9:21 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Well, I think instalove doesn't really have a set definition. For me, it's more about 1) the time the characters spend together and 2) how well set up their romance is. I think Katie and Tomo spent a fair amount of time together actually, enough for young people to think that was love. Plus, they did bond over some things. It wasn't brilliantly done, but they did seem to have reasons to like one another. The only thing that crossed the line for me was the "I'll die for you" stuff.

July 20, 2013 at 9:25 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yeah, I know that alone doesn't seem to make it okay. I don't know. I guess I was just expecting all of the romance stuff to be even worse or something. I didn't hate Katie, though I didn't love her either, so that helped.

July 20, 2013 at 10:50 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

I know. The reactions here have been quite disparate. *shrugs* Sometimes I'm the guy that likes things more than everyone else.

July 20, 2013 at 10:53 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Sweet! I hope you like it too. A lot of people haven't, but the good overwhelmed the bad for me.

July 20, 2013 at 10:54 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

I'm definitely a black sheep here, but I really liked it obviously. *shrugs*

July 20, 2013 at 10:56 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

If it doesn't work for you, you'll know pretty early on, I think.

July 20, 2013 at 10:57 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Me too. I was terrified I would hate it.

July 20, 2013 at 10:58 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Such was my concern. I know why people didn't like it, and it makes sense, but for whatever reason it did really work for me.

July 20, 2013 at 10:58 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

You liked this one? We agree on a thing? *waits for impending destruction of world by Vogons*

July 20, 2013 at 10:59 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

I know, I know. I'm the worst, really.

Me too, actually, but it just worked for me. The low expectations may have been a factor too.

You will not like Ink, Lilian. I PROMISE this. And you already know I loved Stormdancer too, so we just don't see eye to eye here.

July 20, 2013 at 11:03 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Truth. Her love for Japan really came through, and the Japanese culture was amazing. Will you try book two then?

July 20, 2013 at 11:05 AM  
Blogger Amanda said...

I'm glad that you were able to enjoy this book so much, despite the tons of negative hype it has been receiving. I'm sure that your love of and experiences with manga and Japanese culture did help fuel your enjoyment of this book, which is great. I'm not sure whether everyone panning this story really has much understanding of the popular culture it is trying to emulate. I tried some anime and manga, but it's not really my thing. Except for Death Note - which makes me super curious about the allusion this book has to that! I'm still not sure how much I'd really enjoy this, but I'm glad that it surpassed your hype-fueled expectations!

July 20, 2013 at 12:46 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

This review made me happy. Mostly because I liked this book too and was afraid you wouldn't.

I definitely think this is a good read for people who enjoy Asian entertainment - Sun obviously drew a lot if inspiration from it. And I get what you mean about the double standard type thing. I don't mind guys in Asian stuff being more dominant I guess because I just accept it as a cultural difference. I would expect the same thing if a book were set in the Middle East or parts of Africa.

Yay! I'm do glad we agree on this one!! :-)

July 20, 2013 at 2:16 PM  
Blogger Debby said...

You know, I'm a huge fan of manga, anime, jdrama as well, and I totally get what you mean about the relationship dynamics being so different there. For some reason, in manga, anime, jdrama it didn't bug me. But here it did. Even though it was set in Japan, that wasn't enough to flip that switch for me... I wish I knew why because I really wish I could have enjoyed this book.

The whole "I will die for you" thing is a MAJOR turn off for me. It makes me want to toss a book in the trash. And I think it sends completely the wrong message to teenagers today. Ugh.

July 20, 2013 at 2:44 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Me too! I know some of the people who didn't like it are big fans of that pop culture, but, then again, that doesn't mean that you can put your head in that place. I went into it with the idea of thinking of it that way, and it super helped.

July 20, 2013 at 4:31 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

We so rarely agree, so this is a monumental occasion.

I know some people didn't find this okay, but I loved all the little things like the handholding and the first names. It's just so familiar. And, yeah, I feel the same way about Asian pop culture. While it's not hot that they're so bossy, it can only be held against them so much, you know?

July 20, 2013 at 4:35 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Right, and I think if I hadn't seen all those negative reviews and just a couple positive ones telling me to think about it that way, I would definitely not have liked it so much. But I went in telling myself "it's a shoujo," and that made it okay. Sorry you couldn't enjoy.

I really feel like the romance might have been amped up by her editor or something, because those pieces are so stereotypical and don't really seem to fit with the rest of it.

July 20, 2013 at 4:38 PM  
Blogger Kami said...

I'm a manga lover as well, so I think I'll have to give this a try!

July 20, 2013 at 8:33 PM  
Blogger Jen Ryland Reviews said...

This is why book bloggers who write thoughtful, well-written reviews do make a difference. Having read other reviews and yours, I can see why you liked this and why other people might not have been as wowed. This is such a fantastic, personal, specific and helpful review. And having never read manga, I am fascinated to read your take on some of the tropes. I would love to read more about that!

(Finally, for the record, I don't have that much of an issue with YA instalove. I think teenagers can think they're in love that fast and can think it will last forever and ever. Not that that ever happened to me or anything *cough*)

July 22, 2013 at 9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Phew! I'm delighted you liked this! I've been putting off reading it for so long but this was so helpful! I adore manga so I'm more hopeful I'll like this now. Great review Christina, you've eased my mind! :)

July 23, 2013 at 4:00 PM  
Blogger Judith said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this more than I did, though I did really enjoy it as well. Especially in the beginning I had a really good time reading this book and I completely understood Katie "stalking" Tomohiro because um hello, his freaking drawings move. It's just that when the whole our whole universe revolves around the other, you are everything blah blah started happening that I was really annoyed. I haven't read any manga or anything so I think that's why it didn't do much for me. Overall, I liked the whole kami thing and I wish there had been more of that instead of just the romance. I hope the next book will be about that!

July 29, 2013 at 6:18 AM  

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