Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Ink By Amanda Sun

Published: June 25th 2013
Publisher: Harlequin Teen 
Website: Author's Blog 
Series: The Paper Gods

            Katie, a Canadian who once lived in Toronto, has moved to Japan after her mother died of cancer. Now living in Japan, she doesn’t want to stay and is eager to return to Canada. One day, she stumbles upon a strange event with the kendo star Tomohiro Yuu. Tomohiro has a secret that Katie has uncovered: his drawings can move. Despite Katie knowing this he does not confess to it, and Katie sets off to discover more about him.

In high school, this would have been the coolest book ever. In my wildest dreams, I would have cause to go to Japan and really live there, sans parents, and take in everything Japan has to offer. I’d eat up the culture and say goodbye to my Western-ness, and revel in the place I thought I was meant to be born in.
Too bad I had no idea about YA lit, and I always had teachers instructing me to read high-brow literary masterpieces. The books I read (A Handmaid’s Tale, Farhenheight 451, The Golden Compass, Frankenstein, Great Expectations) were wonderful, but I missed out on everything YA has to offer with protagonists my own age with relatable feelings and (fantasy elements aside) stories I can personally relate to. I would have loved this book when I was 14-17 (not that I don’t love it now!). 
Plus, I am a fan of ink and brush art, and art done in simple pen. This book would have consumed me. Also, it has Shinto lore, and I love mythology. Too bad this book didn’t exist 10 years ago!  

            In the beginning, I disliked the characters, and it is sad to admit, I disliked them by various degrees throughout the novel. They both posses overbearing personalities. No one is perfect in real life, but the two main characters are difficult to process page-by-page.

            Blonde haired and blue eyed, Katie stands out as an Amerika-jin, a foreigner, in Japan. She is not intent on staying in Japan; she eagerly awaits news that she can join her grandparents in Deep River, Ontario. When she becomes interested in Tomohiro’s secret, she begins stalking him. Yes, really. His secret certainly is absolutely amazing, but secret aside, this is weird.  
            She also has a lot of legitimate questions that she should be getting out of Tomohiro, but she takes her sweet time, probably because she’s too busy making out with him to dwell on it. But this guy is rumoured to have a violent past and she lets it be for far too long.

            Copper haired kendo star, Yuu Tomohiro has a mysterious secret. But he comes off as a terrible jerk. Katie first encounters him while he is breaking up with his girlfriend, and a different pregnant girl is included in the argument. What a catch! He can be nice, but it is inconsistent. Aside from his drawings that move, I don’t see many redeeming qualities.
            *End Game Spoiler Here! Read at your own risk!
            Towards the end of the book, Tomohiro tries to make her want to leave Japan by making her hate him. He does this by attempting to rape her. Alright, he probably had no intention of actually raping her, but this is not ok! I’m not sure what the author could have been thinking. On Katie’s end, she’d probably be emotionally scarred for life. Is she? Nope. This whole rape thing bumps my rating down. To me, this was a 5-star book until this happened. I can get past the unlikable character traits, but this? Nope, can’t do it. I’ll re-write it here: he brought her to the love motel and said that he expected it, called her a promiscuous American, and Katie got mad and left. This wouldn’t upset me so much, but I didn’t write the book.  

            Obligatory love triangle addition that has no chance because he is obviously not involved in the book enough. I hate these, especially because I like Jun much more than Tomohiro (which is weird, I know, being 25-years-old and everything). At least he was nice to her! Why bother to stalk Tomohiro when you could…stalk this guy? (Alternatively, he can call me in about nine years.)

            The cover is what immediately attracted me. My copy is bound in what feels like watercolour paper, and the art is a watercolour painting of a blonde woman with flowers. Inside, there are ink sketches on each of the pages, and full illustrations too. I sincerely wish more books included illustrations when the characters are artists. It is a very beautiful addition to my shelf. The only gripe I had was that you can tell that the full page illustrations were drawn by different people. It would have been more believable to have them done by a single hand to make them look uniform.
            Someone else had to tell me that there was a glossary in the back. As a fan of Japanese cinema (live-action horror and anime) I’ve amassed a vocabulary of words and phrases, but every now and then I had to check. It was useful and I had no idea it was there because nothing informs the reader about the glossary.

            There is a connection to the yakuza in the book, but since I don’t want to spoil it, I won’t explain. However, it felt forced. Plus, their real-life nature is glossed over. This group is responsible for violent crimes, including kidnapping European women and selling them into prostitution.

Anime Conventions
            These conventions run past anime, but these lazy writing sins are some of the reasons I don’t watch much anime anymore, and they are in the book:
1.      New kid in town
2.      Fall in love with the mysterious boy
3.      Elusive hot guy doesn’t want to hurt her with his magical powers
4.      Girl makes hot guy’s powers go crazy
5.       Dead/absent parents
6.      Tsundere (mean girls who are secretly in love with the main male – I call stalking mean behaviour) 

Final Verdict
            Even if you don’t know anything about Japanese culture or language, you can enjoy this book. It is about learning the culture from a Western perspective, from a reluctant source, and there is a glossary in the back. I am hoping the next book will have more Shinto lore and explanations, and I hope Tomohiro is consistently likable in the next book. For some reason, I thought there were already more books in this series out. So when I finished it, I went to the bookstore right away only to come back empty-handed and cursing myself for not Googling this first. More than a month later, the next book, Rain, came out in July, and I just have to make it to the bookstore to get it. I recommend this book for a teen book club, even with a questionable scene, because it can create valuable discussion.
You can get the prequel novella, Shadow, for free on Wattpad, or you can read it on Harliquin (you just have to sign up for free, but I prefer Wattpad).

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