Published by Imprint on October 31st, 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Depression & Mental Illness, Young Adult
Pages: 336 •Format: Paperback •Source: Purchased
Jack once saved August's life . . . now can August save him?
August is a misfit with a pyro streak and Jack is a golden boy on the varsity rugby team--but their intense friendship goes way back. Jack begins to see increasingly vivid hallucinations that take the form of an elaborate fantasy kingdom creeping into the edges of the real world. With their parents' unreliable behavior, August decides to help Jack the way he always has--on his own. He accepts the visions as reality, even when Jack leads them on a quest to fulfill a dark prophecy.
August and Jack alienate everyone around them as they struggle with their sanity, free falling into the surreal fantasy world that feels made for them. In the end, each one must choose his own truth.
Written in vivid micro-fiction with a stream-of-consciousness feel and multimedia elements, K. Ancrum's The Wicker King touches on themes of mental health and explores a codependent relationship fraught with tension, madness and love.
The Wicker King had been lingering on my TBR for a while, and when it was announced as the first read in the Dragons & Tea Book Club, it shot to the top of my TBR so I could participate. When I received my paperback copy in the mail, I actually initially though it was damaged as the pages slowly fade into the black the further along the novel progresses, which seemed an ominous sign for what I was getting into while reading.
As expected from both the description on the book design, The Wicker King is a tale of two teenagers spiraling into darkness, feeding off of each other’s situations in a co-dependent relationship. There’s Jack, more of the golden boy figure who’s mental health is slowly deteriorating, and August, his unlikely friend since childhood who ends up along for the ride. The story chronicles their retreat from reality and into the world created by Jack’s hallucinations that can only be truly known to them. The story was honestly much more disturbing and intense than I expected, not because of the hallucinations or almost paranormal feeling at times, but rather because of the co-dependency between August and Jack and August following Jack into his alternate world to a point where his involvement is more dangerous than Jack’s because he has no control as he can’t “see” what Jack does. The story is stark and raw in a way that I often haven’t seen in YA fiction. While Jack and August’s relationship is frightening in its intensity at times (and due to its circumstances), I did love seeing this unconditional love that they had for each other manifest in different ways, and their relationship is such a unique one. Though the story focuses on August and Jack’s relationship, I also liked the portrayal of their friends who were on the “outside” and not involved with Jack’s imagined world, but who all tried to help in their own way (Alex, Rina, the twins, etc.)
The narrative is formatted uniquely, including many multi media elements (playlists, pictures, copies of police reports, etc.) which add a level of intrigue and make the pages fly by. The actual narrative is told through a series of mini vignettes that only last a few pages at most but are like snapshots into August’s life, becoming more intense and desperate feeling as the story progresses. It added the perfect urgent, anxiety inducing tone to the book that was helped along with the color change in page and text (although it became difficult to read at times because of the coloring, but I have a feeling this may have been due to the print quality of my paperback).
While this story isn’t the kind I’d typically reach for, I really, truly appreciated the author’s dedication and note at the end. You can tell she wrote this story with the intention of reaching teenagers who may be on their own or struggling or treading water the best they can, showcasing that even those with the best intentions and aspirations can get weighed down or make the wrong call but it’s OK because they’re doing the best they can. That is exactly the situation August was in throughout the course of the novel (and is even described as a “weird, young dad”)- he’s desperately trying to take care of himself and his peers when he’s really at a stage where he needs to be cared for, which I think is just as important of a message as the great mental health rep in this book.
Overall: The Wicker King was a quite yet powerful read with an intriguing format and an ironic twist at the end. While it’s personally not the type of book I’d typically reach for and therefore isn’t a forever favorite of mine, I think it will resonate with many readers as a 5 star read and I’m very thankful that I read it.