Title: Ink

Author: Amanda Sun

Rating: ★★★

On the heels of a family tragedy, Katie Greene must 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. 

When Katie meets aloof but gorgeous Tomohiro, the star of the school’s kendo team, she is intrigued by him…and a little scared. His tough attitude seems meant to keep her at a distance, and when they’re near each other, strange things happen. Pens explode. Ink drips from nowhere. And unless Katie is seeing things, drawings come to life. 

Somehow Tomo is connected to the Kami, powerful ancient beings who once ruled Japan-and as feelings develop between Katie and Tomo, things begin to spiral out of control. The wrong people are starting to ask questions, and if they discover the truth, no one will be safe.

Review: First… a few things I feel that you must know about me to fully understand how reading this book was for me… and possibly where my review is coming from.

I LIVE IN Japan. I have lived here for over 5 years. I came as a student, stars in my eyes, big dreams, and a scrap of Japanese on my tongue. I lived with a host family in Tokyo and Japan bitch-slapped me in the face. I struggled through homesickness and culture shock (real, deep down culture shock that makes you not want to leave the house because the idea of having to use Japanese is just crushing… not ‘oh wow, in Japan they do this funny thing, that’s strange’). I came back after I graduated to work and lived 45 minutes outside of Tokyo in Saitama, and then got married in 2011 and moved back to Tokyo before my husband’s job transferred us to Ibaraki and now I live in a little town by the ocean in the countryside. 

I’m no ‘Japan’ expert, nor do I think I’m a special snowflake and that ‘My Japan’ trumps all other experiences in Japan… but I do know what it’s like to be a foreigner. A gaijin. And I know how fucking annoying it is when no matter how hard you try to fit in you still get treated like a child when it comes to using chopsticks or eating Japanese food. And the way that Katie was portrayed at times really bothered me. I just felt like she was perpetuating the foreigner stereotype. Eating peanut butter sandwiches and not being able to use chopsticks? Come on. Give her a little credit. I think if she would have struggled with some of the more realistic things that foreigners struggle with (y’all don’t want to stand behind me at the bank, I always have to get help and it’s embarrassing  Don’t even ASK about my post office stories) that would have added a bit more depth to both the story and the character.

SO. From the start I knew that this book and I were going to either click or rub each other the wrong way. I was pleasantly surprised that I DID enjoy the story, and the paranormal elements were very interesting. I had a bit of a problem with the Kami being well know before WWII because… that’s not THAT long ago. I still have old men who make comments about WWII, so I feel that if the Kami had been running around there WOULD be people who remembered them. That might have worked better for me if they had slowly started going into hiding once Japan had opened to the west. Kami running around in the open, public knowledge until the crazies with the blond hair and big noses showing up? That sounds more plausible.

Tomohiro. I am a sucker for the bad boys of anime. And I kept picturing him as every douche bag anti-hero from every anime I ever watched growing up. I fell for it, hook, line and sinker. At one point I even though ‘wow, I wish I had a Japanese boyfriend…’ and then laughed my ass off and told my husband and he was like ‘omg you are so dumb, but it’s too bad you didn’t know me during my yankee days’. ::swoon:: 

Katie… she really got on my nerves. I wanted to sympathize with her. Her mother just died and she had nowhere to go so she ends up on the other side of the world. But I felt like she had adjusted to not only life in Japan too quickly… but the death of her mother as well. Sometimes I just forgot about it. And I felt that she had too. And instead of mourning her mother she turned into a stalker. Because yes, she was stalking Tomohiro and it was ODD. And all of her ‘I can’t live without him/we are connected forever’ stuff made me think of Bella Swan and that is NEVER a character I want to be reading about.

I felt that a lot of the descriptions of Japan were spot on, especially the cherry blossom season portion. Having just gone through the craze of it myself a month ago… I can relate. Everyone is OBSESSED with them. There were times though that I wanted to shake the book and scream JUST USE THE PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE ENGLISH EQUIVALENT NOT THE STUPID JAPANESE SHORTHAND FOR SOMETHING ENGLISH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. Like whenever Katie would go eat ice cream and it was called ‘ice’. I fucking HATE it when my perfectly fluent English speaking friends call it ice. NO. IT IS NOT ICE. Little things like that just took me out of the story and made me want to smack something. Again, I was nit-picking, but I have never in my life said ‘Imma go get some vanilla ice’ (well… that’s probably because I’m lactose intollerant but… YOU GET MY POINT).

And I guess that brings me to the whole language problem. I had a major issue with the idea of them all speaking in Japanese all of the time. I just didn’t see the point. Think about it… it’s a book written in English, but they’re speaking in Japanese, so basically it’s a translation. And if it had honestly been a translation of a Japanese book into English I just… it makes my brain hurt. I was trying to translate their dialogue as I read, from English to Japanese and there is just NO WAY that Katie was THAT fluent. I understand that she had studied before going to Japan and was attending Japanese cram school and speaking Japanese in school but… I just don’t buy it. From my own experience and from seeing my own friends I know that it takes time and that she would have been struggling A LOT more. 

But fine, whatever, so she’s a linguistic genius and is speaking fluent Japanese… then why the hell is she dropping in ACTUAL UNTRANSLATED JAPANESE?! That was baffling. And it felt like overkill. If I didn’t know what those parts said without looking at the extensive glossary (which must be a bitch to flip to on an e-reader) I would have just been done. I don’t see the point for having any of the spoken stuff. Or why Katie would refer to the entrance way as the genkan but then call the shinkansen the bullet train. There are SO many Japanese words that have made their way into the English lexicon that these seemed like incredibly random choices that had no real meaning. The only part where keeping in Japanese words makes sense is during times where you can’t use an English word… like with the kendo and tea ceremony terms. 

I would have liked to have seen Katie learn new words and have the reader learn them along with her. Or have it clear when they are speaking Japanese and English. We are left to assume and in my head, to save my brain, anytime there was Japanese that was the ONLY time Japanese was being spoken. It’s the only way it worked for me.

And my BIGGEST problem with the ENTIRE thing was the use of the word gaijin. For many people this word is not offensive, but for others it is. I personally use it when referring to myself ONLY when I’m with a closed group of friends who also use the word. Some might argue that this is not the same as a racial slur, but I have seen it used as such. Gaijin means outsider and the polite way to refer to a foreigner is gai-koku-jin. When Katie’s teacher referred to her as a gaijin I SCREAMED. If a stranger, or a boss/manager/coworker refers to me as a gaijin I find it HIGHLY offensive and it REALLY bothered me that it was used in such a way in this book. Anytime anyone writes about a foreign country for an audience not familiar with that country they are TEACHING about that foreign country and anyone unfamiliar with this term was basically taught that it’s an okay thing to call a foreigner in Japan and IT IS NOT.

Overall, like I said, I did enjoy the book. It kept me engaged, it made me feel a wide variety of emotions, and I do want to see what happens in the next book. The art in the book was also a nice touch, and that added points to my overall rating.

So my word of advice… read it and picture it like an anime.


6 thoughts on “INK

  1. Debby

    Aww man, I didn’t even really think about how fluent Katie indeed must have been to be communicating so well. Yet another flaw on this book. It indeed made all the random Japanese even more weird. Ugh. Totally agree with your review, and it’s great to see your perspective on it. I didn’t fully know that about the “gaijin” term either, (well it’s somewhere in the back of my memory) but damn, that is bad indeed. And YES, I hated that Katie totally didn’t struggle with either the death of her mother or adjusting to Japan. At least, not nearly long enough.

    I couldn’t manage to picture this like an anime, sadly. I wish I were able to, but I kept getting distracted by the multitude of flaws. Great review!

    1. river Post author

      Yeah ‘gaijin’ is such a weird term. I think of it as in most ethnic and racial groups there are words and names that can only be used within that group. Anyone outside of it using that word would be in danger of offending someone. And usually the only time I refer to myself as a gaijin is when I’m being incredibly sarcastic or ironic.

      It was SO unrealistic that she had like NO culture shock whatsoever. And her mother’s death was just like… what? Who died? How? I actually had more sympathy for Tomohiro’s mother’s death (and we got way more info… which was odd).

      Thanks! I enjoyed yours as well 😀

  2. Amy McNulty

    I heard about this book (written by a huge anime fan who spent some time in Japan, I believe) and thought it was anime-like! I’m kind of interested in reading it sometime, even if some things sound “off”!

    1. river Post author

      Yup, the author lived here (as a student in high school) and traveled around, so she’s familiar with Japan. I know she used to be big into anime and does cosplay now, but I’m sure that had some affect on her writing. I think it would make a great anime, but I’d rather see the main girl as a Japanese girl than an American if it was… because I don’t think that her being an American was handled well at all.

      I think you’d enjoy it ^^ Like I said, I liked it… just those things bothered me. Might not be so annoying to someone who’s never lived here tho.

  3. Kelly L.

    My goodness, I love your review! You bought up tons of excellent points, especially the whole language barrier that’s so hard to break through. Just a suggestion, perhaps you can write a note to the bank/post office in Japanese about what you want to do there? It might be embarrassing, but it is a lot better than trying to understand what the other person is trying to say. 😛
    And I was wondering about the translation thing the entire time I was reading Ink. I’m studying Chinese right now and there are just so many words and phrases that you just can’t translate from Japanese to English AND vice versa. I wonder how THAT works in Ink…

    1. river Post author

      Thank you! Yeah, there are a lot of words and phrases that don’t translate we’ll from Japanese into English and vice-versa… I think that things like the kendo and tea ceremony terms are good examples… And those were totally acceptable uses of Japanese in the txt. But some of the other stuff… It really made my head hurt.

      Thanks for the idea 🙂 my writing is worse than my speaking tho! Ahahaha~ The problem with daily tasks, for me, is that most people assume that I don’t speak Japanese. I do, but I suck at super formal/polite language, which is what all service workers use to speak to customers, so there’s a lot of them assuming and me trying to remember my formal grammar… Or sometimes when I use the ATM by myself I don’t remember the kanji for something and have to try again till I hit the right button. The post office is the best because they would always ask me questions and I’d say ‘I don’t know the answer’ and then the worker thought I didn’t know Japanese, and then another worker who I spoke to before actually yelled at the dude that I did. Sometimes it’s funny, but I end up taking longer to do things because of it.

      Waahh, Chinese seems so difficult. I hope you’re enjoying it!


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