Title: Ink is Thicker Than Water
Author: Amy Spalding (The Reece Malcolm List)
Publisher: Entangled: Teen
For Kellie Brooks, family has always been a tough word to define. Combine her hippie mom and tattooist stepdad, her adopted overachieving sister, her younger half brother, and her tough-love dad, and average Kellie’s the one stuck in the middle, overlooked and impermanent. When Kellie’s sister finally meets her birth mother and her best friend starts hanging with a cooler crowd, the feeling only grows stronger.
But then she reconnects with Oliver, the sweet and sensitive college guy she had a near hookup with last year. Oliver is intense and attractive, and she’s sure he’s totally out of her league. But as she discovers that maybe intensity isn’t always a good thing, it’s yet another relationship she feels is spiraling out of her control.
It’ll take a new role on the school newspaper and a new job at her mom’s tattoo shop for Kellie to realize that defining herself both outside and within her family is what can finally allow her to feel permanent, just like a tattoo.
You know that I’m pretty excited for a book when I buy it before I’ve even read it. Of course, that was partly because I could not seem to find this book anywhere, but it was also because I really enjoyed Amy Spalding’s debut, The Reece Malcolm List, when I read it at the very end of 2013. I was both a little nervous and excited for her second effort.
The beginning is so adorable that you almost don’t want to read the rest of the book because you just know that things are going to start falling apart – and that’s not a spoiler, because all you have to do is read the summary or remember that this is a book and books all need at least a little drama in order to have a plot and a story and everything. But, at the same time, you do want to keep reading, because you want to see this family at the center of the book pull through all of the drama that they will inevitably have to endure. Yes, there’s much more to the story than the family, but it’s the family that I honestly care about the most, so the introduction to them is the highlight of the beginning for me.
This is definitely a character-driven plot – it’s building up to some final confrontations and changes and such, but there’s no race to some big event or anything like this. You read this book because you want to see what’ll happen with Kellie’s family and to Kellie herself, not because you want to see whether the family tattoo shop will win a family business competition or whether Kellie will solve the mystery of what’s going on with her sister – neither of those things are plots in this book (well, the sister thing kind of is – you are curious to see just what exactly her sister is thinking throughout all of this, since we only get Kellie’s view until the end). If you don’t like the characters in this book, you might not be too interested in the story itself, which would be a shame.
This is a big part of the story, since it is quite character-driven and all (like many contemporaries are, of course). Kellie, the main character, sometimes frustrated me a bit with her sometimes dramatic inner thoughts and slight whining (although it was mostly justified, due to all the drama around her), but for the most part I really did like her. It was many of the secondary characters that I really cared about, though. There was Kellie’s mother (who I’ll talk about more later), her adopted sister, Sara, and her new friend Adelaide, who really got my attention. They seemed to be the more complex ones, and the ones who I was really interested in learning more about. I definitely got annoyed with Sara, and the whole plotline surrounding her made me so emotional because sister storylines can be very emotional and amazing stories for me, but it was definitely interesting to read about. Adelaide could sometimes be annoying, and there were times I had trouble understanding her and she seemed a little shaky, but she was definitely an interesting character. There were lots of interesting characters, really, from Kellie’s little brother, Finn, to some of her friends and Sara’s boyfriend, and I wish we would have seen more of them because I think they could have all been fleshed out even more, but as is, I was definitely happy with and interested in the secondary cast.
It was nice seeing some slightly off-beat locations – the family tattoo shop, The Family Ink, various local coffee shops and small businesses, and the “alternative”-style high school that Kellie attends. Some of the locations were better described than others, but I still think I got a good sense of the setting, which is St. Louis, Missouri or around there – and that’s good, considering I have family in that area and have thus been there at least a few times in my life. It was really funny seeing St. Louis University mentioned, since my dad went there initially (he had to transfer because his major’s program was shut down, so not his fault) and I had a friend who was seriously considering going there for a little while, so it was fun seeing a place I actually know!
The Adult Situation
There were different types of characters, and that really is a great thing to see in a book. There was Kellie’s dad, who is very difficult on her, doesn’t really understand her, and often belittles her without realizing it – but he was never a complete villain, someone that you hate completely, and that was refreshing. There was Kellie’s stepfather, Russell, who was a very easy-going guy but one who was still there for Kellie and the rest of the family – he seemed like one of the best kinds of stepfather you could ask for, really. But it was Kellie’s mother who rightfully took the spotlight in the adult category. I would say that her mother had a midlife crisis when Kellie was little, but it wasn’t a crisis at all – it was simply the point when she realized just who she was, and that that person was someone who liked getting and giving tattoos rather than wearing stuffy suits to her job as a lawyer or paralegal or something. She’s definitely an easy-going mother most of the time, but that doesn’t stop her from being an effective one either – when her daughters begin pushing some boundaries, she re-enforces their curfew, and she makes sure to be quite open with her daughter about sex safe, even offering to take Kellie to the doctor herself (but also understanding when Kellie decides to go on her own). I felt the worst for her throughout all the family drama, but at the same time I knew that she could handle it and would come out stronger for it all. If I had a YA Parent Award of the Year, it’s definitely looking like it’d go to her (and maybe I’ll make that a thing now, in one of my year-end wrap-ups that seem ages away in the middle of May)!
This was the main “meh” thing about the book. There were definitely cute moments, but as was the case with the romance in The Reece Malcolm List, I just didn’t care about it too much. There was drama surrounding the relationship, and I was definitely interested in learning more about it and seeing how Kellie would handle things, but overall, I didn’t care too much, in a completely neutral way. I was definitely happy for the fact that they did talk about sex at least a little before doing it and that safe sex was a big part of the romance, but other than that, it was just sort of there, not causing any issues, but also not causing any swooning on my part or anything.
I suppose some things might have wrapped up a little too easily, but a lot of the ending is quite open-ended, much like life itself. And, of course, since my favorite thing about this book was the family, I was most interested in seeing how that plotline would be wrapped up, and I think I’m satisfied with it. There are some things that I feel could have been a bit more resolved, especially with the Sara-and-her-biological-mother-and-her-need-to-pull-away plot, but I was altogether happy with it. I closed the book satisfied, and that’s definitely a way that I want to end a book.
According to the acknowledgments in the back of the book, this was actually Spalding’s debut, before The Reece Malcolm List, which was released before it. So, maybe I shouldn’t put this in the Sophomore Author Challenge, but since I didn’t know ahead of time and I’m already tweaking the rules (this book was actually released in December, but I’m counting it for this year since it was the end of the year and I rarely seem to get books in the month that they’re released and it seemed close enough), I don’t really care that much. But, my point is, this makes me quite happy – while I did think this was a really cute book, and loved the family dynamics, I didn’t love it as much as The Reece Malcolm List, so it’s great to see that that’s actually a later effort from her, and that she could be growing from an author I like to one I love. Fingers crossed for her next book!