"A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last." --C.S. Lewis
You can find more of my reviews (plus discussions and giveaways) at Christina Reads YA.
1. (+/-) Katie, the protagonist - I wanted to like Katie. She's an outsider in a foreign land, and she hardly knows the language. She recently lost her mother. She's waiting to see if she'll lose her grandfather too, or if she'll be able to return home. Still she tries; she immerses herself in the culture. She tries to learn the language and appropriate behavior. And when she suspects that Tomo is up to something, she decides to find out what that is. You could say she's brave and determined and trying to find herself so that she can stop feeling so alone... but I found that I could not connect to her. If I were in her position, I probably would not have stalked Tomo until I discovered what he was hiding (yeah, his drawings were creepy, but all the more reason to stay away). I probably would have tried to become better friends with Yuki and Tanaka, the people who were actually friendly to me, instead of chasing after a mysterious, dangerous guy just so that I could escape for a short while. But I am not Katie, and some people will identify with her. Plus she learns from her mistakes, and she calls Tomo out on his behavior.
2. (+) World-building - This is where Ink really shines. Amanda Sun did a fantastic job incorporating her research to thoroughly portray Japanese culture. Christina, from A Reader of Fictions, spoke of how she recognized several scenes from manga/kdrama/general Asian pop culture. A lot of these references I probably did not catch, but still I was in awe of the level of research that must have gone into this book: the food (many different meals I've never heard of), when to wear the slippers and the slipper cubicles at school (cram school too), the cherry blossom picnic and the importance that plays in the culture, kendo as an art and a sport, the English club (and how gaijin, or foreigners, are generally the ones recruited), the Tea Ceremony club, transportation (the train stations and biking), the Yakuza, Japanese history with the kami and Shinto religion, the temples for the kami, the way Katie interacted with the people around her... Truly remarkable the level of detail that went into painstakingly creating a believable Japanese setting.
3. (+) Romance - So it's not necessarily insta!love, since some time passes before Katie and Tomo expressing their feelings and how those feelings are separated into different stages... but it has the general connotations of insta!love: I'll-die-for-you, I-need-to-keep-you-safe, Your-life-is-more-important-than-mine, etc. The brooding, dangerous, I'm going to scare away the heroine technique wasn't what worked for me. What I found most compelling about the romance in Ink was the way it interacted with Japanese culture. I loved the different steps up in their relationship -- when they start calling each other by their first names, when they begin to touch each other more without blushing (Tomo blushes a lot; it's adorable, and I get the sense that it's intricately tied to Japanese culture), when they got each other's numbers, (less of an emphasis on the first kiss asap) etc... I also liked the way Katie and Tomo fit when they weren't worrying about the ink. Their interactions snarky and playful, and they made a good match, calling each other out on some of their more outlandish behavior (Tomo being a jerk, Katie being a stalker, etc.).
4. (+/-) Plot - At times, it seemed as if there were maybe fifty pages of Katie narrating what had just happened on previous pages instead of us getting more action, more complications to racket the tension. There were times when I thought: why is this scene necessary? And Katie would tell me what she learned, but I would think: didn't you learn this earlier? It's a fairly standard paranormal romance plot, and the book didn't feel overly long-- actually it seemed too short, a bit thin on the plot, potentially thinner so that there was enough for the series as a whole. I found myself wishing that there were more twists, as much detail in the plot as there was in the world.
5. (+/-) PNR Tropes - If paranormal romance tropes don't bother you, then you're good to go. But Katie stalks the dangerous, mysterious, aloof Tomohiro... Tomohiro who, in the first chapter, drives away his girlfriend with some cruel words... Tomohiro whose past is drenched in mystery... Katie, who has a connection to Tomo... who would be better off away from Tomo etc. etc.
6. (+/-) Character Cast - The side characters took a backseat to the world and plot, and often times I felt that the characters only existed to further the plot. What was Yuki really like? Tanaka? Yuki's brother? They're all nice, but they all just give Katie the necessary information or put her in the right place at the right time. Right now, the most I can remember about Yuki is that yeah, she took a chance on the gaijin, but she's also a huge gossip and has a big mouth. That's the most I sensed of her personality.
7. (+) Belonging - My thesis adviser is half-Japanese, and he spoke of how difficult it was for him to belong in Japan because of his darker skin tone. Two of my best friends who are black studied abroad in Japan, and they told me stories of how months after living in Japan, waitresses would still flip their menus to the other side, the English side, the side for foreigners, even though they knew Japanese. I say this because all three have spoken of the difficulties of belonging, and one thing I thought Amanda Sun did particularly well was emphasize the sense of loneliness and isolation that Katie felt as the gaijin, or foreigner (or as Katie takes it: outsider). Katie will stick out as did my friends and professor. A blonde white girl in Japan who still stumbles over her Japanese, and even if she didn't, I'd imagine there would still be times when she didn't quite fit. Teens who are struggling to find their place will identify with Katie.
8. (+/-) Writing - There were times when the writing was beautiful (i.e. descriptions of the dripping ink) and times when I didn't need to look up any of the Japanese or world-building terms because Ms. Sun filled in the context for my understanding a few sentences down... but there were also times when the writing became too purple and a tad strange (i.e. "My heart was glass--easy to see through, simple to break."). This last part is obviously personal preference and will vary from reader to reader.
9. (+) Pacing - The pacing is fairly standard for a paranormal romance novel. The building mystery and suspense until you find out what Tomo is, Katie falling in love with Tomo, bad guys interfering, etc. etc.
10. (+) The Cover - This cover is so beautiful. A wonderful representation of Katie and the world-building and with a hint of Japanese culture (from my American understanding).
If you're interested in Japanese culture and want a sample of some young adult literature, you might try out Ink. If you're looking for a paranormal romance with excellent world-building in a unique cultural setting, you'll enjoy Ink.