I really did not expect to like Ink. Obviously, I did when I requested the book (Japan! Fantasy! That cover!), but reviews started pouring in and almost all were negative and listed the sorts of reasons I generally agree with, like relationship dynamics and instalove. Here I am, though, having really liked Ink, almost loved it, in spite of all of that. While I can see why a lot of my trusted friends haven't enjoyed it, I had a ton of fun reading it and, minus some hiccups on the romance side of things, thought it was a strong novel besides.
To explain this disparity between my opinion and those of others, I have to explain just how much of a nerd I am. In 2008, while interning at a public library, I picked up a love for manga, which has since bloomed into a love for anime and kdrama. Even before that, Asian culture fascinated me, but now it's verging (if we lessen my crazy) on obsession. There are a lot of upsetting elements in the average kdrama/manhwa/anime/manga/jdrama. Men tend to be dominant; women weak and easy to tears. Boyfriends tend to be overly physical, verging on abusive, with their girlfriends. I see this, but, for some reason, it's not as much of an obstacle to my enjoyment as it is in American pop culture. Now, I'm not saying that the romance is necessarily like this in Ink, but I'm trying to explain that my standards are subtly different for the stories set in this other culture.
For those of you who are big fans of manga (which will be my shorthand for all those permutations listed above), Ink is delightful. Amanda Sun peppers the text with those classic scenes to be found in almost any shoujo manga: the wrist grab, the boy carrying the girl on his bike, the close stares that don't end in kisses but leave the heroine a blushing mess, the yakuza, the sakura. There were so many moments that made me laugh giddily because I recognized them from pop culture. Ink really does read like a manga, which is made of win.
The premise, too, is fascinating, and I really think Sun does a marvelous job with it. I was impressed with her writing in general, but her descriptions of the ink coming alive really do burst off the page. In fact, her love for Japan, for kendo, for art, and for Japanese history really do shine through. Her twist on the mythology of the kami, Japanese gods really worked, and seemed pretty sensitive to Japanese culture thus far; I am so glad Katie, a white girl from the US was not a kami. Also, the plot takes a Death Note sort of turn near the end, which is going to become more of a factor in later books I think, that makes me want to take a chip and eat it...while cackling malevolently.
Katie does stalk Tomohiro quite a bit in the beginning, but, even that, I'm okay with, for the most part. She's a bit of a creeper, but she does have reason to be curious: she saw his pictures moving and ink dripping seemingly from nowhere. Plus, she was really homesick and lonely, and the mystery of what was going on with Tomohiro was a good distraction. Getting caught up in that is what helps her transition from a foreigner to someone who really belongs. Once she gets more involved in life there, her Japanese improves much faster and so does her general quality of life.
About the romance, I really wouldn't categorize it as instalove personally. For one thing, Katie and Tomohiro really do spend a fair amount of time together, and time elapses between their initial meetings and their declarations of love. They do move too fast once they start the relationship, and do the whole inexplicably drawn to each other thing, though. However, I'm willing to mostly let that slide, since Katie and Tomo do actually have chemistry and are occasionally quite adorable together, like when Tomo blushes. I won't say I'm shipping them hard, but I don't hate them as a couple either.
What Left Me Wanting More:
The downside of their relationship was how serious their bond became. They do the whole "I'm ready to sacrifice myself for you" and "can't live without you" thing, which is really getting old. I really don't think most teens are this willing to die for love. Not only that, but the dialogue at these points always gets so hackneyed and melodramatic. Tomo definitely tries to do the manly keep Katie in the dark and protect her thing sometimes, but, what saved this book for me, Katie doesn't let him. Both Katie and Tomo know about the imperfections of the other, and they call each other on their bad habits. Katie calls Tomo out several times for not telling her things or for being a jerk, and Tomo does the same when Katie keeps stalking him. They're accepting one another's bad qualities, not unaware of them. Even if Tomo tries all that masculine nonsense, Katie doesn't let him. Though I don't approve of a lot of Katie's decisions, they are at least real choices, and not her being forced one way or another by other people in her life.
The Final Verdict:
Ink turned out to be a fantastic book, despite my expectations to the contrary. If book two were available now, I would not hesitate to read it right away. I highly recommend this one to fans of Japanese or Korean pop culture!