Claire Takata has never known much about her father, who passed away ten years ago. But on the anniversary of his death, she finds a letter from her deceased father to her stepfather. Before now, Claire never had a reason to believe they even knew each other. Struggling to understand why her parents kept this surprising history hidden, Claire combs through anything that might give her information about her father . . . until she discovers that he was a member of the yakuza, a Japanese organized crime syndicate. The discovery opens a door that should have been left closed. The race to outrun her father’s legacy reveals secrets of his past that cast ominous shadows, threatening Claire, her friends and family, her newfound love, and ultimately her life. Winner of Tu Books’ New Visions Award, Ink and Ashes is a fascinating debut novel packed with romance, intrigue, and heart-stopping action.
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This book is a perfect blend of mystery, suspense, and romance. I love Claire; she’s an amazing protagonist in so many ways, not least of which is her ability to act rather than sit around and wait for things to happen to her. What I like even more, is that Claire’s ability to take care of herself starts off slowly, then builds to a final climax of all her skills coming together into a beautiful mix of bravery and self-preservation. Claire starts off by telling her overprotective “brothers” that she can take care of herself. They laugh and metaphorically pat her on the head in a way that made me want to punch them despite all their well-meaning attention. Claire slowly changes into a girl who merely tells the boys she’s got this, to acting of her own volition. This is such a beautifully understated portion of the book - the message that girls can take care of themselves, then backing up the character’s words with some great action scenes! Easily my favorite aspect of the novel!
Between mysteries of Claire’s past mixed with secrets from her present, there are so many clues I was thankful when Claire referenced them more than once. I had a difficult time piecing clues together along the way, and I definitely suspected the wrong person(s) at various points, which is exactly how I like my mysteries! A strong, yet simple plot can make all the difference in a mystery, especially with those delicious missteps along the way. Ink and Ashes has plenty of both, not to mention nearly perfect pacing.
As Claire works hard to find clues as to her father’s involvement in the yakuza, things are complicated further by the secrets her mother and stepfather have been keeping from her and her brothers. Who can you trust when your stepfather isn’t who he says he is either? Turns out Claire can trust a few people, as her group of best friends help her unravel all the clues, giving her strength to continue her search for answers. This was another home run for me, as their friendships demonstrated healthy relationships between Claire’s blood relatives and the family she chooses. Claire’s family can be angry at one another without forsaking each other. Overall, the relationships between family and friends were a positive demonstration of the many facets of love.
Ink and Ashes is also a powerful novel in terms of diversity in YA fiction, having already won acclaim and the Tu Books New Vision Award. Claire’s family is Japanese, and Claire both embraces her family’s traditions, as well as commentating on the lack of diversity in her hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah. Being a Utah native myself, this novel was a close-to-home reminder of why we need diversity in YA literature. I found myself loving Claire all the more for addressing her desires to fit in, as well as her constant self-acceptance. It was so wonderfully woven into the novel, that Ink and Ashes deserves every ounce of its acclaim and more. Ink and Ashes is a masterful story, full of adventure, intrigue, and acceptance.