Ink, a young-adult novel by Amanda Sun, details the adventures of Katie Green, an American girl of sixteen who has been orphaned and been sent to live with her aunt in Shizuoka, a smallish city in Japan. Katie is a strong-willed girl who admirably makes the most of this unfortunate situation, struggling through language and cultural differences, bravely shelving her emotions of loss and alienation to forge a life in unfamiliar and often uncomfortable circumstances.
In Shizuoka, Katie’s romantic eye is quickly taken by Yuu Tomohiro, a young kendo champion who is as alluring as he is aloof and rude. Over the course of the novel Katie learns that Tomohiro is a kami, a being with the ability to draw pictures that become real. This power is dangerous both to Tomohiro and those around him, and as Katie is pulled further into Tomohiro’s circle, she realizes that many of his less favorable character traits are intentionally cultivated to keep people distant from his oftentimes dangerous power. Yet Katie herself somehow supplements the powers of kami, and her relationship with Tomohiro grows deeper and more complicated as a result of this synergism.
Amanda Sun does a great job describing the foreign setting and customs using language that younger readers will likely enjoy and find compelling. Her descriptions of the city and Katie’s relationships with her schoolmates are outstanding, and the narrative is breezy and readable.
Unfortunately, the novel suffers from some serious pacing issues, as well as a lack of exposition of the full nature of a kami. Especially lacking is depth on Katie’s own ability to amplify kami powers. The book runs a little over 300 pages, and we aren’t really into serious action until about page 250, where the Yakuza become interested in Tomohiro’s ability to draw things such as guns, currency, and deadly dragons. A few pages later we learn that there is a society of young kami interested in overthrowing the yakuza and gaining more control over their powers.
Most of prior pages are filled by an awkwardly presented romantic plotline between Katie and Tomohiro that never really feels convincing, partly because the book treads lightly around sex for the sake of the younger audience, and partly because Tomohiro is forced into inconsistent behaviors because of his powers. The PG13-ness of the novel is a reasonable choice—and a route taken by many young-adult series such as Harry Potter and the Hunger Games—yet in these other works much more care is taken to delve into the fantasy world and the characters’ powers early and often. Sun’s decision to forestall this exposition until very late in the book leaves us with an oftentimes frustrating teen-romance that isn’t nearly as interesting as the Japanese setting or kami itself. Ink feels like the first of a series, and one hopes Sun will take the many great imaginative pieces that exist here in a mostly unconnected fashion and stich them together into a compelling narrative in later works. [subscribe2]