A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Some Japanese culture. Glossary of Japanese vocabulary words used. Facts about inflicting damage on an assailant in self-defense context. Brief information about the Warsaw Concerto. Author's note tells about her personal experience of Japanese culture in the United States.
Love can be shown in a lot of small ways that add up to something big. Strong bonds of family and friendship help you through difficult times. Asking for help and letting others help you when they volunteer can save a lot of trouble.
Positive Role Models
Claire, who's 17, breaks some rules mostly to do with snooping, but she's a great model of a smart, well-rounded teen who values academics and athletics. She's loyal and persistent. She saves the life of someone who has done tremendous harm to her. She's surrounded by loving, supportive parents and brothers, and she chafes against their insistence that she needs protecting.
Violence & Scariness
Violent acts required of yakuza (Japanese mafia) members mentioned or implied. Kidnapping, a few fights with punches, kicks, and resulting pain described. Heroine is threatened by arson, including receiving a burned mannequin dressed like her and real bird eyes in a box, which are creepy but not described in detail. Several gunshots; blood is mentioned a few times but not described.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A few kisses, one light make-out session, some hand-holding. A mooning with "white cheeks" mentioned.
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"Crap," "butt" once or twice each.
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Products & Purchases
A few snack, gaming, and car brands establish mood or character.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A bad guy smokes cigarettes and blows smoke in Claire's face, which stings her eyes.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Ink and Ashes is a mystery with a strong, smart, 17-year-old heroine, Claire. The mystery involves revealing secrets about Claire's parents' past and intertwines with how Japanese culture has evolved in the United States through multiple generations. Her large network of family and friends provides positive role models for loyalty and support. There's no content inappropriate for a middle schooler, but high schoolers are more likely to relate to the older teen characters and their lives. Violence is mostly speculation about ties to the yakuza (Japanese mafia); an eventual confrontation with kidnapping, gunshots, and fighting with blows has pain and injuries, but they're described without gore. Older teens kiss a few times and make out once. Strong language is limited to a few instances of "crap." This is a fine choice for families looking for books with a diverse cast of characters.
Is It Any Good?
This absorbing mystery unfolds at a graceful pace best suited for a patient reader. The plot builds slowly but steadily to a surprising end that reveals truths not only about the past but also about Claire herself. Teens will enjoy Claire's large circle of childhood friends who help solve the mystery, and elements of Japanese culture bring fresh appeal.
INK AND ASHES is a solid debut novel. The writing is good, but the lyrical language promised in the first few pages isn’t sustained throughout the story. Still, author Valynne E. Maetani keeps the pages turning. Claire's voice is realistic and engaging and provides a strong foundation as the reader navigates family secrets, budding romance, high school life, and a growing sense of danger.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.