TITLE: Ink (Paper Gods, #1)
AUTHOR: Amanda Sun
GENRE: YA Fantasy
SOURCE: Digital ARC via NetGalley, 388 Pages
RELEASE DATE: June 25, 2013 (Harlequin Teen)
Katie’s new life in Japan is worlds removed from how things used to be. Feeling like a fish out of water, she struggles to adapt to all the changes being thrown her way, from learning a new language to deciphering the local culture. It doesn’t help that she’s also grieving for her mother, whose death left Katie an orphan with nowhere to go except her aunt’s home in Shizuoka. Even more puzzling than Japanese customs, however, is the enigmatic Yuu Tomohiro — a leering bully one moment and incredibly charming the next. There’s something more to Tomohiro, something Katie is determined to understand. What is he hiding? And why do the beautiful ink drawings in his sketchbooks seem to be alive…?
Yes, why indeed?? And why is it that the ink drawings ended up taking a back seat in a story that was supposed to be about them? That’s one of my biggest questions regarding Ink, which had such huge potential to me but ended up falling short of my expectations. I love that it’s set in Japan, I love that reading it was so much like an anime playing in my head, but I do NOT love how swiftly such a promising idea was relegated to the background in favor of “romance.” Sadly, for me it became yet another book with a fascinating premise that eventually tanked under a mess of obsessive insta-love (among other things).
I’ll start with some positive things, because I really do feel bad about not liking this book. I mean, I know I’m under no obligation to like it, but it upsets me anyway. I did think the ink drawings scattered throughout the pages were absolutely beautiful (um although they had this tendency to freeze up my iPad ><) and a few amazing, intriguing scenes resulted from Tomohiro’s drawings. I liked his connection to art — the way he felt about it, but also the juxtaposition of his love for sketching and the dark consequences of doing so. I enjoyed watching Katie learn to adapt to her new life, picking up the habits of an average Japanese teenager while reconciling these adaptations with her western upbringing. Her journey from resenting these changes to embracing them was really pretty heartening to see. (Do I wish that Katie’s acceptance of Japan and eventual love for the country wasn’t pretty much completely influenced by her manic obsession with Tomohiro? Yes. YES I DO.) I also appreciated the book’s cinematic scenes, which as previously mentioned were very easy to imagine as an anime playing in my mind.
The terrible romance between Katie and Tomohiro was really what undermined this book’s possibilities for me, in a huge, huge way that I just couldn’t overlook. Nothing makes my reading experience go downhill faster than instant, obsessive teenage love. It’s just ridiculous. Katie has this crazed impulse to always know what Tomohiro is doing, and she ends up following him all over the place, all the while contradicting herself by vowing that she loathes him, thinks he’s a jackass, and has no idea why she’s even following him. Her borderline stalker behavior only escalates when they start spending more time together, which is when she switches from traipsing along behind him everywhere he goes to just flat out being conjoined at the hip. It was like watching the whole Bella and Edward disaster all over again. Here she is, in this entirely new place, with so much to learn and see and do, and she spends the majority of her time alienating herself from what few friends she’s made just to have the same hobbies, pursuits, and interests that Tomohiro has.
And Tomohiro, by the way, is just as aggravating. They’re both walking contradictions, although at least he has a tepid excuse for being that way, since his method of protecting people he cares about is to switch to douchebag mode the minute he thinks they’re endangered by his strange abilities. We’re meant to believe, as Katie doggedly insists, that Tomohiro is a nice boy underneath all that brooding rage. She finds his jerk persona to be scintillating. Because really, why would we ever pick a nice, kind, considerate young man to date when we could have an arrogant, mood swing-prone, downright confusing guy instead???? RIGHT??? BECAUSE THAT MAKES SO MUCH SENSE??? I don’t get how he’s attractive. And it bugged me that Katie WAS attracted to him, and most attracted to him when he was being horrible to her. I hate that this one boy seemed to embody all of Japan to her.
It was so hard to even focus on anything else when I was so disturbed by the lame romance between these two characters. I’m sure fellow reviewers out there will talk more about the plot, which vaguely involved yakuza but in a shallow, fairly unconvincing way. There was a bit of Japanese folklore thrown in, although I didn’t feel like it was enough. So many of the events, encounters, and interactions between characters were way too convenient to be believable. How is it feasible for Katie to run into so many people she knows EVERYWHERE she goes?? This doesn’t just apply to Tomohiro, it also applies to her two other friends (she’s usually too busy chasing Tomohiro to even pay attention to them unless they’re needed for some kind of plot reveal), a mysterious boy named Jun (who, SURPRISE! is also attractive) and her various “enemies,” who all have this knack for popping up coincidentally. Just… ugh.
I’ve allowed myself almost two weeks to think about this book and what I wanted to say in my review, as well as how I truly felt about it. I have to conclude that what bothers me most about it is the message that it sends to the target audience — young girls who might see Katie’s behavior as romantic and Tomohiro’s perplexing personality as alluring. Their relationship holds up such an unhealthy example. You shouldn’t abandon all your friends, ignore your family, and push all else aside just to figure out one boy. That one boy shouldn’t become your entire world. (I don’t care how flipping intoxicating the scent of his vanilla hair gel is!!!)
Thank you to Harlequin Teen for providing an ARC of this book!