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.
I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Kellie is dealing with a lot: her sister is distancing herself from the family, her best friend has suddenly stopped speaking to her, her father wants her to be more like her studious sister, she has a new boyfriend, she’s started working at her mom and stepfather’s shop, and she’s joined the school newspaper and made a whole group of friends there. That’s a lot of changes for one person in such a short time, but Kellie takes it all in stride. Mostly.
Families in YA are so often absent, but Kellie has an entire family: mom, stepfather, sister, brother, and stepfather. Every one of them is present in the book. I like Kellie’s family a lot, with the exception of her father Clayton. He obviously favors Kellie’s sister Sara because she gets good grades and goes the the right private school, and he’s unfair to a much more laid-back Kellie. Kellie isn’t a bad student; she’s just not an overachiever. The middle of the road is fine (to use one of her favorite words) with her. She doesn’t knock herself out to get the grades that would impress her father because that’s now what’s important to her. She hasn’t figured her path out yet, but that’s okay. She’s only a junior in high school and she has time.
Kellie’s mom is an example of that. When married to Kellie’s dad, she was a straight-laced paralegal. Since their divorce, she’s become a tattoo artist and, like Kellie, she’s a more laid-back person. She values Kellie as much as she does Sara, and even though she initially doesn’t want Kellie to work in the tattoo shop, she eventually relents and gives her a chance.
Kellie has an interesting relationship with Oliver. She almost had sex with him on the day they met, months ago, but stopped herself and hasn’t seen him since, until she runs into him again with his brother (Sara’s boyfriend). The new relationship is important to Kellie, but it’s not her entire focus. She turns down invitations from Oliver to hang out with her newspaper friends and to work at her mom’s shop and she invites him over while she’s babysitting her brother but she plays with Finn while Oliver studies.
To be honest, I didn’t really get the “Oliver is overly clingy and wants to take up ALLLLLLLLL my time!!!” vibe that Kellie suddenly decides is an issue about 85% of the way into the book. I feel like that came out of nowhere, although there are small hints earlier on — mostly comments from other people — that he has an underlying issue. It feels, to me, like Kellie is looking for something to be wrong in their relationship and when she discovers what that issue is, she flips out. She and Oliver don’t spend all their time together, but he doesn’t give her grief about the time she spent with her new friends or babysitting her brother either. It’s only natural that he wants to spend time with her, so Kellie’s realization that Oliver wanted more from her just seemed a little contrived. Up until that point, I thought they had a pretty good relationship and that she even goes about deciding to have sex with him in a healthy way.
As Kellie’s sister starts spending more time with her newly-found biological mother, Kellie is left behind and feels resentful and abandoned. It’s interesting to me to see this story told from the point of view of the sister being left out and not the one experiencing meeting her bio mom (and later her father) for the first time.
Ink is Thicker Than Water is actually Amy Spalding’s first book, but The Reece Malcom List was published first. Although I liked The Reece Malcom List, I think Ink is Thicker Than Water is a stronger book, with better, more likable characters.