Review - Ink by Alice Broadway



I have lived for sixteen years but what does my skin have to show for it? If I died tonight my book would look the same as any other person my age. Except for the names being different, and a few other small changes, the story's the same.

My skin tells the tale the government has chosen for me. I have a sudden yearning to fill every inch so nothing is lost: the beauty I've seen, my friend's names - well, Verity's at least, my first love. My first love. The thought almost makes me laugh out loud. I won't have any romance to ink on my skin. Who would want me?

(Ink, Alice Broadway. Page 69.)

If your skin was marked with the facts of your life, what would you want to hide? Should the past mark you indelibly, or does everybody deserve redemption? In Leora’s world, the marks on our skin not only show the world we have nothing to hide, they also determine our chance at remembrance after death. In a world where religion and government are intertwined, at death, the skin is cut from the body and bound into a ‘skin book’. This book is examined by government officials. If it is found good, it is given to the family. The name of the deceased is read out by the community on a regular basis. The soul of the person lives on. If it is found bad, the book is thrown on to the fire. The person must never be spoken of.

The death of Leora’s father coincides with the rise of Mayor Longsight. Longsight is determined to crack down on the ‘blanks’, people whose skin is unmarked. Longsight wants to return to the old values – to the time of public markings in the town square. As Leora fights for her father’s remembrance, she discovers that he kept more than one secret under his skin. Uncertain who to believe, Leora must consider whether family means more than society and deal with the implications of her choice.

One of the interesting aspects was the story on which the religious and political systems are founded. A man makes a wish for his daughters on his deathbed, and the two sisters benefit from the wish in different ways. Society marks one sister as good, the other bad. I loved how Leora was given different versions of the fairy tale from different people. Leora learns the danger of taking a story at face value, and questions the values of her society for the first time.

The story is also about identity. Do statistics define us – our age, our occupation? Or is it our past actions? Both Leora and her mother are ‘readers’, able to see more deeply into people’s marks. Their ability teaches them that there are thoughts and feelings beyond these statistics, which also form our identity. Leora is also faced with identity crisis. Can she believe her father is the man she knew if it is possible society will say otherwise?

I wish I could call this a dystopia, but some of the government’s actions put me in mind of contemporary figures. Mayor Longsight is keen for people to believe that anyone who wants to help the blanks is spreading ‘lies’ within the community. This is relevant to current events, as it questions the nature of ‘truth’ and what happens when a single person in power attempts to dictate what is true and what is a lie. It also reminds us that the storyteller might have an agenda.

The relationship I liked most was between Leora and her best friend Verity. Both allocated top jobs following their exams, the pair try to remain as close as they were in childhood while they navigate the new world of responsibility. Few YA books explore the world of work. When it is shown, it is usually in fantasy or sci-fi novels where the rules of the world can be written to say people begin jobs or training schemes earlier. Reading ‘Ink’ made me think more YA Novels should explore this aspect of life. In the UK, people can begin full-time work and apprentiships at 16, and certainly many chose to do so at 18. Depicting this world might help young readers make life choices.

I would love a sequel – the ending was ambiguous as to whether this will happen. I would return to this world in an instant, and look forward to seeing what Alice Broadway writes next.

 Scholastic LTD
Page Count: 366

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