Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Ink Is Thicker Than Water by Amy Spalding

Cover art for Ink is Thicker Than Water by Amy Spalding
Ink Is Thicker Than Water by Kirstin Chen, pub. December 2013, 285 pg.

For me, one of the biggest signs that you’re reading a great book is being able to relate to the characters and situations even though you’ve never been in their shoes yourself. By that standard, Ink is Thicker Than Water by Amy Spalding definitely qualifies as a great book.

Kellie is your average high school junior. She’s trying to skate through high school without putting in too much effort (that is, until she gets a position as her school paper’s humor columnist), stresses out about her new relationship with the boy she almost had sex with the previous summer and struggles to maintain old friendships while growing up and growing apart. When her adopted older sister, Sara, is contacted by Camille, her biological mother, Kellie watches as Sara’s decisions about her relationship with Camille impact their family.

Kellie’s relationship with her family really made this book for me.

Where Sara is extremely smart and relatively popular, Kellie has a fantastic sense of humor and one or two close friends. She definitely feels inadequate compared to her sister, and these feelings are really reflected in the family’s dynamic.

Their mom is a free spirit and encourages the girls to make and learn from their own decisions. After divorcing their father, their mom married Russel, a vegan tattoo artist, and had their little brother, Finn. Their mom went from being a paralegal to a tattoo artist at the shop she co-owns with Russel, The Family Ink. Kellie takes after her mom – they’re both creative and joke constantly about having “useless” talents. Family is extremely important to their mother, and they have a policy of being open and honest with each other.

Their relationship with their dad, on the other hand, is a bit more strained. It’s easy to see that he’s never quite sure what to do with the two teenage girls when they stay with him. He’s much more private than their mother, and he isn’t the greatest at demonstrating affection. He praises Sara constantly for her great grades and academic success and often suggests if Kellie applied herself, she could be more like Sara.

Because you get to know Kellie and Sara’s family so well, it’s easy to see the strain Sara’s new relationship with her biological mother puts them under. Having this new, important person introduced into their lives is hard on all of them, but Kellie especially takes it to heart. She struggles to deal with her sister’s decisions and can’t come to terms with the fact that Sara could potentially choose her birth mother over their shared family.

In addition to her family situation, I think Kellie’s problems with friends, relationships and school make this story easy to relate to for anyone who has gone through or is currently in high school. Her best friend from childhood suddenly becomes focused on popularity and leaves Kellie in the dust. At the same time, Kellie is moving in her own direction and forming bonds with her friends at the school newspaper, particularly genius-activist-editor-in-chief Adelaide.

Her relationship with Oliver, a college boy she came close to losing her virginity to at a party several months earlier, is both adorable and realistic. He’s really sweet to her, although sometimes his intensity is a bit off-putting. One of Kellie’s biggest struggles outside of her family life is deciding whether or not she is ready to have sex with him, which I think many teens can relate to. I really enjoyed how maturely she handled decisions like this throughout the book. She never just rushes into major choices without thinking, and I think that sets a really good example for teens who might read this.

Ink is Thicker Than Blood is full of Kellie’s hilarious sense of humor. Although the book is full of serious and often dramatic situations, the drama is tempered by Kellie’s witty personality and knack for snappy comebacks and one-liners. She is entirely likeable, and she now holds a place among my top characters of the year. Without the humor that is so deeply ingrained in her character, this book would have been incredibly different.

It can’t be easy to write a novel about a unique situation and make it universally relatable, but I think Spalding was able to make that happen. Even though I haven’t experienced many of the things that happen in Ink is Thicker Than Blood, I easily understood the emotions and experiences of the characters. If you’re looking for a quick, easy read with strong family themes and an overall great storyline, I would strongly recommend you check this one out.

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