Careful–you are holding fresh ink. And not hot-off-the-press, still-drying-in-your-hands ink. Instead, you are holding twelve stories with endings that are still being written–whose next chapters are up to you.
Because these stories are meant to be read. And shared.
Thirteen of the most accomplished YA authors deliver a label-defying anthology that includes ten short stories, a graphic novel, and a one-act play. This collection will inspire you to break conventions, bend the rules, and color outside the lines. All you need is fresh ink.
2018 has been a year of diverse anthologies, and Fresh Ink is one of the good ones. Told with hopeful narratives to heartbreaking ones, this book is a celebration of difference, empathy, acceptance, and living one’s truth. From contemporary stories to historical stories to science-fiction stories, Fresh Ink features twelve stories written by some of diverse YA’s most brilliant voices.
STORIES THAT SAY: LIVE YOUR TRUTH
Whilst reading the stories in Fresh Ink, a distinct message that stood out to me was the importance of living your truth. Although all of the stories within Fresh Ink have this underlying theme, this message was particularly pertinent in Catch, Pull, Drive by Schuyler Bailar, a story about Tommy, a transgender boy who swims competitively and faces ostracism in the swimming pool. I was surprised, and then amazed, that the story is written by Bailar himself, the first openly transgender competitive swimmer in the United States. Catch, Pull, Drive was absolutely brilliant and poignant, and explores the main character’s experiences and thoughts about coming out and the experiences that followed it. Better yet, I was pleased with the uplifting ending that concluded with an optimistic note about bravery and solidarity.
Another excellent story was One Voice by Melissa de la Cruz, a brief sequel to her other book, Something in Between. One Voice follows Jasmine in college, and how two racist experiences motivate her to speak out, stand in solidarity and protest, and to live her truth without fear. Paladin/Samurai is a short graphic story by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Thien Pham, about a group of friends playing Swords and Spells (a nod to Dungeons and Dragons), including a biracial Japanese-White American who experiences erasure when he wants to be a Samurai, not a Paladin, and his friend who stands up to a racist bully. Be Cool For Once by Aminah Mae Safi follows a Muslim-American at a rock concert who bumps into her crush, and wonderfully portrays the ups and downs of having a crush, the messiness of feelings, and being true to how one feels.
STORIES THAT SAY: LOVE WITH COMPASSION AND COURAGE
I was extremely pleased that Fresh Ink had some romance stories; they were wonderful and exactly what I craved for. Perhaps my favourite was Meet Cute by Malinda Lo. It follows two girls, Nic and Tamia, an Asian girl, who cosplays as Sulu from Star Trek and a Black girl who cosplays Scully from the X-Files respectively. Set in a con, the two girls discuss double standards in geek culture, racism, sexism, and get tied up in an adventure when the power goes out. Meet Cute was an effortless favourite with its fresh narrative, endearing characters, and nostalgic setting. Why I Learned To Cook is also a heart-warming story, about Yasi, a Persian bi teen who is worried about coming out as bi to her immigrant grandmother and introducing her girlfriend to her.
Super Human by Nicola Yoon was probably my favourite story of the anthology. Yoon’s writing was superb and shone particularly brightly in this compelling story. It’s about Syrita, a Black teen, who has been chosen by the U.S. government to convince a superhero, who has lost his faith in humanity, not to destroy the world. It is a story filled with discourse about police brutality, racism, and classism, but was also powerful, emotional, and filled with humanity. Note, this story isn’t about romantic love; rather, it’s about the courage to love and to believe after hurt and pain. Eraser Tattoo by Jason Reynolds also explores racism, but those that manifests as microaggressions. More importantly, Eraser Tattoo is about two teens who grew up and fell in love together and their meeting before one is uprooted to another state. It’s poignant, captures the complexity and difficulties of goodbye and commitment, but also portrays how their goodbyes are jarred and ruined by a white couple who has no respect for their space and presence.
STORIES THAT SAY: WE CAN STILL DO A LOT BETTER
The Fresh Ink offers a balanced array of narratives, but perhaps the ones that hit me particularly hard were the stories that explored the status quo – whether of today or of the past. Don’t Pass Me By by Eric Gansworth was particularly poignant and brilliant; it’s centers on a seven year old Native boy, Hubert, who goes to a predominantly white school. The story explores the microaggressions, colourism, and racism he experiences, how white-passing comes with privilege, and how he challenges racism and misrepresentation in the classroom.
Tags by Walter Dean Myers was a story that unexpectedly hit me hard; more so that it was written by the late Walter Dean Myers. The story is executed as a play, and follows four dead Black teens who discuss their deaths, their tags and their legacies. Underlying the story is discourse on how institutions have pervasive and terrible power to shape the lives of young, marginalised, and especially Black teens. A Boy’s Duty is a historical fiction and follows a young Black teen, Zakary, during World War II who loses his way in pursuit of something greater than the farm life he leaves behind. It’s about unfortunate circumstances, doing things right, and seizing your destiny.
There was also A Stranger at the Bochinche by Daniel José Older, a story that didn’t really quite fit in the categories I listed above, but was still an interesting and unique science fiction story set in an otherworldly Brooklyn. It wasn’t a favourite, but fans of his work and his unique imagination may enjoy this story.
MY CONCLUSION: RECOMMENDED
If you love diverse anthologies and enjoy reading a variety of perspectives, genres, and ideas, then Fresh Ink is a great book to read. Within these stories lives a story that had to be told, contains a piece of the brilliant contributing authors, and has something important to say, something that had to be said. Indeed, it is anthologies like Fresh Ink that remind me of why diversity is so important and why it’s crucial that give diverse writers platforms to share their stories.
Is this book for you?
Perfect for: Readers who love anthologies; like reading a variety of multi-genre anthology; love identity-centered stories.
Think twice if: you don’t feel like reading an anthology nor particularly enjoy reading them.
Genre: anthology; contemporary, historical fiction, romance, urban fantasy, science-fiction.
Trigger/content warnings: racism (Don’t Pass Me By, Tags, A Boy’s Duty, Paladin/Samurai, One Voice), police brutality (Super Human), anti-trans slurs (Catch, Pull, Drive).
I’ve been really getting into anthologies lately; I recently read Toil and Trouble (which I will review soon!) and am currently reading Unbroken! In fact, I think Varian will be sharing some anthologies with you all sometime in the future… keep an eye out for that!
- Have you read Fresh Ink? If so, what did you think of it and what was your favourite story?
- Do you like reading anthologies? Why or why not?
- Can you recommend any anthologies, particularly diverse ones? I’d love to hear about some recommendations!
Also, you may have noticed that I didn’t include a narrative and illustration for this review. For the sake of efficiency and keeping things realistic on my end, I’ve decided to only include narratives and Xiaolong appearances when I highly recommend a book. But thank you so much for visiting today, and I hope you all read some lovely books.