Ink is Thicker Than Water
by Amy Spalding
Released on: December 3rd, 2013
Published by: Entangled Teen
Rating: 4 stars
Word rating: FUN
Reviewed by: Ellis
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.
Remember that time I was reading an ARC in which certain letters were missing and I thought it was intentional and that this had meaning? That was this book. I had absurd theories. The missing clusters were fi, fl and fli. Kellie's parents run a tattoo parlour named The Family Ink. See those initials? I really thought this conversion error was made on purpose and that it showed there was a disconnect between her and her family. It must have been a weird coincidence. Maybe...
While family does play a big role in Ink is Thicker Than Water, it is not the central struggle of this novel. Kellie loves her family, though she probably won't admit it openly. She is the girl who pretends not to care. Remember, caring is not cool. She is casual incarnate. She is not at the top of the social ladder, but she refuses to be at the bottom. In her eyes, caring about things like academic achievements or, let's say, writing for the school newspaper will make you a member of the social lower class. This is what Kellie comes to terms with. Step by step, her life is being turned upside down. She is forced to take on an active role in fixing it, which makes her admit that she actually cares very much, and, more importantly, that there is no shame in showing that you care.
What made Kellie such a stand-out character for me is her voice. She strikes that perfect balance between casual and witty. She is effortlessly snarky. It never comes across as trying too hard. She can verb with the best of them. In the first chapter, she is "best-friending". If Kellie were real, I would follow her on Twitter and probably insta-favourite all her tweets. I wanted to hug her when her best friend - the one she was so supportive of in chapter 1 - decided to drop her for no reason. I was just as annoyed as she was every time her father mentioned how much better of a student her sister is. When Oliver sent her a Facebook relationship request after only a few dates, both of us were freaking out. Even when she was making mistakes - and I objectively knew they were mistakes - I didn't mind because man, this is Kellie and she is awesome.
In my opinion, Kellie is a very realistic character. She definitely has her flaws, but they never made her less likeable to me. She can be a little self-absorbed. She has a touch of the dramatic in her. However, she is also a very grounded character and while she doesn't exactly suffer from low self-esteem, sheis surprised when people respond positively to her column. She isn't dating Oliver because he's in college, but she is aware that his college guy status as well as his good looks have a certain effect on her popularity. She wants to have sex and is extremely annoyed that it actually makes her freak out when it comes down to it. She thought she was a girl who was totally cool with that. She wanted to be that person. It's things like these that made her such a joy to read about, because it all rings very true to me.
This isn't the only factor that impressed me with how true to life Spalding writes. I really liked the family dynamics in Ink is Thicker Than Water. Kellie's parents split amicably. While she never had to endure major divorce drama, it does leave a mark. As she and her sister grow older, they only sporadically visit their father instead of living part-time at his house. I have friends who went through the same. It's not that they don't want to live with that particular parent, but moving houses every few days or every other week is exhausting. It was refreshing to see how not big of a deal their "unconventional" family was. Sometimes people split up and they're okay with it. Sometimes people are adopted and they're okay with it. This is treated as completely normal and I'm glad to see these dynamics represented in fiction.
Speaking of family, my fi/fl/fli theory would have made sense if Kellie's sister Sarah had been the narrator for Ink is Thicker Than Water. She is the character I should have identified with. She's the oldest in a kooky family. She doesn't always feel at home in either one of her parents' households. When her bio-mom seeks contact, it doesn't take long before Sarah decides to move out and go live with the person who understands her without her ever having to explain herself. While I understand all of this, I still resented her for suddenly moving out. I wanted Sarah to see that her family is amazing and that they love her to death. I blame Kellie for this, because I couldn't imagine anyone wanting to move away from this pile of awesome.
Besides Kellie, my favourite character was Adelaide Johansson. She is a classic overachiever, which means that, at the beginning of this novel, Kellie avoids her like the plague. However, Adelaide is instrumental in making Kellie come to terms with who she is as a person. She is a sobering influence on her. They develop a tentative friendship that benefits both. Adelaide is that supportive friend Kellie needs so much. Their banter is hilarious. Tell Adelaide about your relationship drama and she will be the person who gives you this absurd advise to just communicate with your boyfriend. Weird, right? Here, too, the relationship develops at a realistic pace. While Kellie and Adelaide help each other out - Adelaide more so than Kellie - they don't immediately cling to one another. They gradually grow closer and face many small annoyances that regularly accompany a real friendship.
However, whether you'll like Ink is Thicker Than Water might depend on how much you like these characters. I can see them getting annoying after a while. It just never happened to me, because I was so immersed in the story. The ending bordered on cheesy. I did like how not everything was neatly resolved. There is the possibility that things will turn out fine for Kellie, but at the moment, she is glad with where she stands. The romance is intense and definitely not standard, but I appreciated that Kellie's relationship with Oliver wasn't idealised. There was a major attraction between them, but it was also shown that people aren't always who you thought they would be.
Ink is Thicker Than Water impressed me with its realism. There are so many details that make the story all the more relatable. I instantly took to the characters and their interactions with one another. This is a novel that gets high school right. Kellie's voice is memorable. Her family is amazing. Her little brother is adorable. The supporting cast are characters in their own right. Most importantly, Kellie's relationships aren't just there to dress up the story. They help her learn who she is and wants to be as a person. She doesn't have it all figured out yet, but that's okay. The important thing is that she cares and isn't ashamed to admit it.