Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Ink and Ashes

Ink and Ashes

Valynne E. Maetani
For ages 13 and up
Lee and Low Books, 2015   ISBN: 978-1620142110

Ten years ago, when Claire was six, her father had a heart-attack and died. Not long after, Clair’s mother remarried and she, her children, and her new husband moved from Hawaii to Utah. Every year since then, on the anniversary of her father’s death, Claire, her two brothers and her mother share in a ceremony to commemorate that day.

After the ceremony, Claire gets out her father’s old journal to read through some of the entries. She has so few of his possessions and no one knows that she took the journal out of a box of her father’s things soon after they moved to Utah. While she is flipping the pages of the journal a piece of paper falls out of the cover. It is a letter written in Japanese. The only things Claire can read is the name of the writer, the name of the person who the letter  was written to, and some numbers. The letter was written by her father to Claire’s stepdad. Claire is astonished. No one has ever mentioned that her father and her knew one another.

Claire asks her dad if he knew her father when they lived in Hawaii and he replies that he knew “of him” because her father was a judge and well known. Somehow Claire gets the feeling that he is not telling her everything, and so she picks the lock of his desk where she finds some photos. In one of them she sees her father, Henry, with an arm around George, her stepdad. Clearly the two men knew each other very well. Why hasn’t anyone told her and her brothers about this connection? Why is her dad lying to her?

Claire tells her two brothers and her friends Forrest, Nicholas, and Fed about her discovery, and then the six of them start trying to find out more about Claire’s father. Using tools they find on the Internet they translate Claire’s father’s letter, but it does not mean a great deal to them. One of the numbers appears to be a phone number in Tokyo and so Claire calls it. She tries to talk to the person who answers, but he does not respond and so she gives up.

Next Claire decides to look into her father’s death. Why would such a young man have a heart attack? Maybe he did not die of a heart attack at all. She asks to have a copy of the autopsy sent to her. Soon after she does this strange things start happening. A black SUV seems to be following her around, and someone steals the photos that she taped inside the door of her school locker. Then she accused of cheating on a history exam and until the matter is investigated she is not allowed to be on the soccer team, which is very upsetting.

Soon after this happens the copy of her father’s autopsy report arrives. To their surprise, Claire, her friends and her brothers find out that her father had many tattoos on his body, including some that Fed tells them have significance for members of the yakuza, the Japanese mafia. Could Claire’s father really have been in the yakuza when he was living in Japan?

Now that she knows something new about her father, Claire keeps digging, wanting to know more, to know for sure that he really did have a dark past. She never imagines that her father’s past could end up bleeding into her present.

In this fascinating and thrilling book we meet a young woman who unexpectedly stirs up a hornets nest when she starts to find out who her dead father really was. The story explores the journey that she, her brother, and her friends make as the truth starts to come out, and it also looks at the ways in which they are all changed by the experience. Claire discovers how powerful the bonds of love, family, and friendship can be, especially when danger looms on the horizon.