Earlier this year I bought The Reece Malcolm List (my thoughts) on the excellent recommendation of several people and was thoroughly enamored with Amy Spalding's writing style. I was excited to discover she would have a second book coming out this year, Ink is Thicker Than Water, and when it showed up on NetGalley I couldn't request it fast enough. I am happy to say that it is another truly wonderful read. It is just so lovely to find an author who can write stories that are real, entertaining, and full of heart all at the same time.
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.
This is Kellie's story, but it is also the story of her whole family and that is probably my favorite thing about Spalding's books so far. They show a greater whole, and I love the way she treats family. Kellie has a lot going on in her life. Many of the relationships that have sustained her and fulfilled her are changing in scary ways and she doesn't know how to cope with it. She often compares herself unfavorably to the people around her and I appreciate how that was done. Kellie's voice is real in a way few authors can get right, vulnerable and confident in turns just as any girl really is. Kellie's relationship and interactions with her family are by far the best thing about this novel for me, and really the heart of what it is about. Spalding portrays the messy chaos and vulnerability that come with loving and living with people we sometimes don't like or agree with. An outsider would say Kellie has a "good" family and she does. Yet all families are messy because there is no other way for a group of individuals so closely tied through history, squabbles, disasters, and triumph to be. Our family sees us at our worst, and that is demonstrated in a very authentic way through Kellie's story. Kellie's relationships with every member of her family and how they affect her and she affects them are integral in the telling of this story. The relationship with her sister was fascinating for me as a reader, and sometimes horribly uncomfortable. I suddenly felt like I was seeing my relationship with my own sister through her perspective. Some of Kellie and Sara's conversations could have come from us when we were in high school (me being Sara) and I sort of felt the need to call and apologize.
Then there was Kellie's romance with Oliver, which I love is not the focal point of the story but still an important part. In many ways he is Kellie's coping mechanism through all of this, and yet I still can't help but root for them.They have a great dynamic and I like that he has plenty of issues of his own, but is also learning to deal with them. I also appreciate the frank and realistic way Spalding dealt with their choices regarding their sexual relationship. Yay for girls having agency, boys respecting that, and couples talking. What I really like about this is that it took them time to get to the point where all three of those were in complete working order. They are still young and learning , but I love how they were trying to do it all right.
This is a book that is not heavy on plot. It is about character and relationships most of all. I love books like this, especially when they do it with realism but also humor and hope.
I have to add that I adored to the core of my being the character of Adelaide, Kellie's new friend. Her email address is a reference to Guys and Dolls, which makes her awesome in and of itself, but she gives great advice too even if she is a little strange and intense.
Amy Spalding has earned a place as an auto-buy author for me now. I will gladly trust her and read anything she has to offer in the future.
I received an e-galley form the publisher, Entangled Teen, via NetGalley. Ink is Thicker Than Water is available for purchase on December 3.