Review: Ink is Thicker Than Water by Amy Spalding

Ink is Thicker Than Water by Amy Spalding. Entangled Teen, 2013. Available December 3.

Age Level & Genre: YA realistic fiction.

17343437Face Value: I haven’t seen the published cover yet, but the cover image available online is pretty good (despite the partially beheaded girl).  I love the tattooed title on the girl’s bicep. The significance of the placement of the tattoo comes up in the book as something meaningful for Kellie, so it’s nice to see that reflected in the cover image.

Does it break the slate? Absolutely. Kellie, her mother, and her sister are all Slatebreakers. Kellie’s mom quit her tedious job as a paralegal and became a tattoo artist who co-owns her own shop. Kellie and her sister are both smart and fiercely independent young women. And the whole novel has a sex positive tone, which is rare and wonderful.

Who would we give it to? This book will comfort anyone experiencing family drama – and around this time of year, isn’t that everyone? If you will be facing a relative who constantly gets on your nerves, reading about Kellie’s family negotiations may inspire you to be diplomatic during family holiday interactions.

Review: One of the key components I crave when reading realistic fiction is great dialogue. I want witty, smart, and thoughtful conversations amongst a strong cast of characters. Ink is Thicker Than Water was strong in the dialogue department, and that made me a big fan of this book. Spalding writes clear and realistic dialogue that helps me better understand each character. And although the novel is told from Kellie’s perspective, there is a balance of Kellie’s inner monologue and her conversations with the many interesting people in her life.

Kellie’s challenge throughout this book is learning to look at situations from others’ perspectives. She is seventeen years old, and when something doesn’t work out she immediately focuses on how she is the source of the problem or how she can fix the problem. This self-centered approach is her biggest obstacle. Although Kellie obviously cares deeply about others, she can’t quite manage to look at things their way. Spalding has crafted a difficult but deeply meaningful journey for Kellie throughout this book. I was with Kellie every step of the way as she worked through her personal crud and learned to think beyond herself. Surprisingly, I never found her annoying. In other books I have found such self-focused characters to be grating, but Kellie is so smart and endearing that I didn’t mind it.

Ink is Thicker Than Water explores unusual family relationships. Drawing Kellie’s family tree would be rather challenging, but I’ll see if I can explain it clearly: Kellie’s mother (a paralegal) and father (a lawyer) were married and they first adopted Kellie’s older sister Sara, then they had Kellie. Then Kellie’s biological parents got divorced. Kellie’s mom quit her paralegal job and became a tattoo artist. She married another tattoo artist, Russell, who is Kellie and Sara’s stepfather. Finn was born, and is the younger brother of Kellie and Sara. There is also a romantic entanglement that add to the familiar complexity. Sara is dating a guy named Dexter, and Kellie gets involved with Dexter’s older brother Oliver. Complicated, right? Don’t worry – Spalding lays it out clearly in the book.

Kellie and her sister struggle to find a connection, which is one of the major issues Kellie has to work through in this book. Sara is an overachieving scholar with excellent grades and a bright future ahead of her. Kellie has, up until now, reveled in apathy. Kellie had avoided any extra effort in school and refused involvement in any extracurricular activities. It doesn’t help that their father is constantly comparing the two of them and encouraging Kellie to be more motivated, like Sara.

Suddenly, Kellie is finding that her apathy doesn’t feel so great anymore. She gets involved in the school newspaper and begins to understand the satisfaction that comes from working hard and seeing your efforts come to fruition. I loved this journey for Kellie. She was so worried about losing her ‘cool factor’ if she started to care about something, but she figured out that she could be engaged in her community and still have social capital. I’m grateful for the way this book discourages apathy. Maybe schoolwork isn’t your thing, but you still need to have a thing. Maybe it’s music. Maybe it’s blogging. Maybe it’s dance or martial arts or whatever. But you have to have something that you can work at and feel good about.

Kellie’s romantic relationship with Oliver also develops in an intriguing way. They have undeniable physical chemistry, but it takes them a while to work out the dynamic of their relationship. Oliver tends to come on too strong, and Kellie is unsure of what she’s looking for in a partner. What I adored most was that Kellie was very self-aware about her willingness to engage in physical intimacy, and she learned how to better communicate that to her partner. She also had a support network of parents and friends who were willing to help her be prepared for sex. Kellie talked about sex with her mom and her friend and her sister, and each conversation was sex positive. Of course she was unsure at times about what she wanted, but she worked that out on her own and never let herself move forward before she was ready.

Spalding’s writing is just so refreshing. The characters are fascinating, the setting sounds amazing (now I want to move to St. Louis!) and the relationships explored pushed me to think about how I engage with my own family. What elements of our family dynamic would I fight to preserve? This book is a great read. Although it’s a latecomer to the 2013 YA party, it may make it on to my “Best of the Year” list.

Reviewed from an eARC received via NetGalley. All thoughts, quotes, and opinions are of this version and not of the published edition.

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