Sammi, TQ, Caryn, Letty, and Katsuko are floaters. None of them fits in with any particular group at Covington High School -- except each other. One night, to cement their bond, the girls decide to get matching, unique tattoos. But when Sammi backs out at the last minute, everything changes. Faster than you can say "airbrush," Sammi is an outcast, and soon, her friends are behaving like total strangers. When they attack Sammi for trying to break up a brawl, Sammi spies something horrible on her friends' backs: the original tattoo has grown tendrils, snaking and curling over the girls' entire bodies. What has that creepy tattoo artist done to her friends? And what - if anything - can Sammi do to get them back?
Poison Ink is a genuinely enjoyable Young Adult book with strong elements of horror, one of the most shocking fight scenes I've ever had the chance to read, and it poses the moral dilemma of: how far would you be prepared to go for your friends?
I like Christopher Golden's style - his writing has a deceptively light touch, whilst creating fun and interesting characters to get to know and root for. Sammi is my favourite, but then Letty deserves a mention - she is the toughest of the group of friends, the most rebellious and the one most likely to take chances and therefor get them into trouble.
The author takes his time setting up the girls, their lives, their dreams and how close they are as a group of friends. When the break-up happens it is a shock and everyone has a reaction to it - Sammi, her now erstwhile friends, other people that she knows at school. It is keenly observed and we plummet with Sammi, into self-doubt, anger and frustration. There is also the fear factor - how will she cope, out there, on her own. It is wonderfully and intensely described on her first day back at school after the break-up with her friends.
Not only has she got to cope with her friends blanking her out of their lives, she has to deal with the rapidly declining relationship between her parents, and then their ultimate decision to separate.
She turns to her music and a new friend, Cute Adam whom she met shortly before school started. Sammi's internal dialogue is handled with a deft hand by a sympathetic author. He is not out to put blame or to slant your view of what is happening. It is told in a crisp way and you do feel tremendous empathy with the characters, for what they are going through, especially when you start seeing how Sammi's erstwhile friends have started acting.
When the violence is turned on Sammi, as she tries to interfere with her old friends beating up another group of girls, it is so blindingly shocking, that it explodes off the page. I know a lot of YA writers prefer to have violence inferred in their writing, hardly any one takes the chance to be graphic - and it is easy to see why they do it. Violence in books, like violence in movies, can feel gratuitous, whereas something well written, as a piece to indicate the awful change characters are going through, is always interesting and jarring to read. And it is definitely the case in Poison Ink. It is literally heartbeat escalating stuff and I actually cringed into myself when I read it.
What works wonderfully is how strong Sammi remains throughout all of this. She puts herself in danger to find out exactly what it is that has her friends acting in ways they would never have acted if they had control over themselves. She formulates a plan and improvises wildly when it goes awry. Sammi is made of strong stuff, but she acts in a completely unselfish and concerned way, wanting her friends back and she is prepared to fight for them, no matter what. The conclusion to the novel is not fluffy - there are repercussions to their actions and there is a fantastic hook for a follow-up, should the author decide to go that route.
I would definitely recommend Poison Ink to more mature YA readers and adults alike who like their urban fantasy with dollops of good characterisation, strong storytelling, a bit of magic and a lot of mayhem.
Find the always amazing Christopher Golden's website here. And here is where you can read an extract of Poison Ink - the opening chapter, in fact.
Poison Ink is published by Delacorte Press (Random House) in the USA but there are copies available through Amazon and I'm sure that other stores will be able to buy them in if requested.