Paperback, 377 pages
Expected publication: June 25th 2013 by Harlequin Teen
Source: Net Galley
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.
Anyone who is a fan of Jpop/Jdrama/Manga will find the setup of Ink really familiar. Except, in this case, the main character is a foreigner. A “gaijin,” as authors seem fond of saying. I am not saying I understand the context the word is used in in Japan but in Fiji, when we said the word equivalent to “gaijin,” it really wasn’t in a complimentary tone. Anyway. Katie Greene finds herself in Japan after the death of her mother. She’s a stranger among people who do not look like her, speak her language or act in a manner she’s familiar with. Then she happens on arguably the most gorgeous boy in school breaking up with his girlfriend in a very callous manner and she is fascinated. Yes, I am still wondering about that but more on that later.
I recently wrote a research paper on cultural appropriation in children’s literature – it is not something that is generally discussed. At all. I plan on changing that. But my point is, I am sensitive to issues of cultural appropriation but unlike in Stormdancer, I felt that the author respected the culture she was writing about and used the language appropriately without trying to redefine words and traditions to suit her ambitions where the plot of the novel was concerned. Somewhat. I felt that she researched her topic and skillfully wove some of that research into the narrative. Somewhat. I want to give credit where its due so I will say that it was handled with a lot more finesse than in the other book I mentioned. That said, there were more subtle and equally problematic discourses in the subtext of this novel.
First are the threads of post-colonial discourse implied in the novel. Katie Greene is white and shown to be “superior,” because she’s the one who will be deciding the course of the novel. She’s the one who comes in from outside and is somehow more important than all the natives combined. Yeah. No. Her refusal to care about the traditions gradually peters away to her accepting the culture and she does accept Japanese “culture” as the author defines it but that, too, is problematic.
There are several times in the novel when Katie speaks of “shame” in her interactions with Hiro. I don’t understand what she means by shame – unless she is insinuating (and thus creating the Oriental woman) that since she has absorbed the Japanese culture, she is reacting as Japanese women are usually portrayed as doing (submissive, timid, timorous, you get the idea) which doesn’t make sense because she has been brought up in North America and there is no way she has completely assimilated in the Japanese culture in a matter of months. Apart from exoticizing women, this is problematic for the feminist in me.
I also found it extremely bizarre that Katie was accepted so wholly by the friends she doesn’t really treat very well. Anyone who has any sort of familiarity with Japanese culture will know that your peers will not accept you without question or without hesitation and reservation – more so in a culture so emphatically closed off. Katie is also a bit of a Mary Sue. There are three boys extremely interested in her and she chooses the dangerous one, of course. There is barely any character development. Katie goes on vacation with her one friend just so that friend’s brother can move the plot forward by revealing some information. The brother remains a cardboard character.
Katie makes all these proclamations but the one I found most ridiculous was one that occurred on the vacation where she hears the name “Amaterasu” and her “blood runs cold.” Like really? She knows nothing about this goddess, there has been no information or world-building and why would the name of a goddess make her blood run cold? It’s bizarre how everything is all about her. Katie seizes the notion that she is somehow part of this “kami” culture or population even though her obvious foreignness makes it impossible. This unexplained connection is used to delineate Katie’s special snowflake status and is reiterated (usually by Katie) once and again.
The mythology could have been fascinating if handled more deftly than it unfortunately was. The romance is troubling because Katie does not consider that this boy broke up with his girlfriend seconds earlier in a notsonice way. The ex-girlfriend’s absence is also puzzling because considering the manner in which they broke up, I’d think the ex would have some bones to grind with Hiro. The ending has the most ridiculous cliffhanger I have ever come across and rather than make me want to read the next book, it made me roll my eyes and swear “never again.”
I went into this book with great expectations. I expected it to be good. It was researched acceptably where daily life and traditions are concerned. However, the novel is extremely unconvincing in its creation of a mythology that buoys the novel. The main character is entirely unlikable and the subtext is problematic. I wouldn’t recommend it.