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On the anniversary of her father's death, Claire finds a letter from her deceased father to her stepfather written in Japanese. Claire doesn't know much about her father, but she had no idea that the two men knew each other. She can't help but think that something has been kept hidden from her and her siblings. She keeps digging to learn more information about her birth father, until she learns the reason the past was kept in the past. It turns out that her father was a member of the yakuza - and his old life with the Japanese mafia is catching up to his family today.
Ink and Ashes by Valynne E. Maetani is a fantastic debut YA mystery thriller that deserves more attention. I haven't read very many novels featuring the yakuza (more movies really), but I was really pleased to see how this novel was handled. While the story has a wonderful mystery that I enjoyed figuring out alongside Claire, at it's heart it's about family and friendship. Claire, Parker, and Avery are well developed and feel just as real as any current high school student. Japanese culture (and language, to a degree) also take a front seat and it's woven seamlessly into the family's narrative. I studied Japanese while I was in school, so of course, I felt very pleased with myself when I could "translate" part of the story.
Overall, Maetani's debut has been one of my favorite reads of the year. I was hooked right away and sped quickly through it - while still attempting to savor the story. If you're interested in Japanese culture, tightly knit families and friends, plus a crackling mystery thriller, you might want to try Ink and Ashes. I'm looking forward to her 2018 release of Seven Dead Gods, which she is teaming up with Courtney Alameda to write.
I read this novel from August 11 - 15, 2016 and my review is also on Goodreads.