After loving The Reece Malcolm List earlier this year, Amy Spalding earned a place on my auto-buy list. Family relationships have never been as intriguing as they are in Spalding’s hands. Plus, her characters are artistic, witty and quirky. INK’s book title refers to Kellie’s family business, a tattoo shop, and looks at what it means to be a family. Is ink thicker than water?
Kellie is the middle child and lives with her mother, stepfather, younger brother, and older sister in St. Louis. Her brother is adorable, and her sister Sara (adopted) is an academic over-achiever wrapped in the body of a supermodel. It’s hard for Kellie to standout but she’s been content thus far to keep a low profile. Her dad wants her to think about colleges and try harder, and seems to favor Sara overall. Kellie snags a writing gig for the school newspaper and writes humorous op-ed pieces, and discovers a new world of intellectual friends, coffee houses, and plays that she previously ignored. And oh, Oliver, the boy she had a very awkward (almost) sexual encounter with last year, is back in the picture.
I like Amy Spalding’s YA books because they are such well rounded coming of age stories, with complex relationships, style, and heart. The family relationships are unconventional but at the same time totally normal as well. Her mom and stepdad run a tattoo shop and are half-vegan, creative, and hippieish, but have traditional values as well.
The sisters Kellie and Sara are just a year apart and are very close. The fact that Sara wants to connect with her birth mother feels like a slap to Kellie, who is protective of her mom. Everyone is supportive of Sara and understands that this is what she needs to do, but it still rocks the family foundation.
Kellie is also dealing with the gradual loss of her BFF Kaitlyn, who ditches her for a more popular clique. It’s realistic to see alliances change in high school as interests change, and their experience feels authentic. It’s also refreshingly different for Kellie to have a new group with the newspaper crew, led by the efficient, intellectual Adelaide. I wouldn’t mind Adelaide getting her own book.
Some of the humor comes in the form of Kellie’s op-ed pieces, where she riffs on meatless options in the school cafeteria (not) and the manure smells of the school courtyard. That she has a knack for writing gives her a confidence boost, something that extends to other parts of Kellie’s life.
I got so attached to the stories and characters that I was sad to let them go at the end. The ending is hopeful but a little open ended. I like when endings aren’t neat and tidy but at the same time I wanted just a bit more resolution.
INK is smart, fresh and real, and a quick, entertaining read. I like that it doesn’t go for over the top dramatics to get the point across but feels true. The dialogue is spot-on and witty, and Spalding doesn’t talk down to her readers. The sex-positive message is a bonus too as is the strong female characterization. If you loved The Reece Malcolm List you’ll definitely want to pick up a copy of INK on Dec. 3.
Congrats to Jessica who won a copy of Ink is Thicker Than Water!