Ink and Ashes

By School Library Journal

Mystery lovers won’t be able to put down Maetani’s smartly written debut. Claire Takata hardly remembers her father, who died when she was a child, but when she finds an old letter of his, she realizes her mother and stepfather have hidden crucial details about their past. In digging for answers, she discovers her ordinary suburban Utah family may have yakuza ties that could put them all in grave danger. Suddenly, she’s being trailed by an unfamiliar black SUV and receiving coded messages only understood by those who know Japanese customs—four white chrysanthemums signifying death and her name written in red ink. Claire also deals with more typical high school concerns as she faces growing feelings for her best friend, Forrest. Readers will fall for him too, as well as the rest of Claire’s close-knit group of friends who bring humor and warmth to the suspenseful narrative. The authentic portrayal of Claire’s Japanese American family, only partially in touch with their heritage, will resonate with many teens who straddle multiple cultures, and Claire herself is a breath of fresh air. Athletic and resourceful, she is determined to solve this mystery on her own terms, confronting her mother and stepfather directly with questions, reporting suspicious happenings to the authorities, and talking openly with her friends about her alarming discoveries. VERDICT This thoroughly engaging tale in the tradition of Nancy Drew or Veronica Mars ends on a satisfying note, but readers will hope for a sequel because it’s just that good.