Reading/Interest Level: Young Adult
Author: K. Ancrum
Jack and August have been inseparable friends for years. But when Jack starts to get lost in a world that August can’t see, their friendship develops into dependence. Even though August still cannot see Jack’s world, it is the place where he and Jack can be closer than they ever could be in the real world. There is finally a place where they are both in control and where they can finally be heroes to each other. But, as they both become more deeply entrenched in Jack’s fantasy, the demands of the fantasy become more all-consuming and sometimes even dangerous. Their other friends, watching this happen, become concerned and wonder whether Jack might need professional psychiatric help, which is more than August can offer him. August tells himself that he’s just keeping it all a secret to be a loyal friend, but the truth is that he doesn’t want to let their quest go any more than Jack does. If the other world disappears for Jack, then reality will be all that they’re left with.
The Wicker King is both disturbing and moving. Due to the characters’ unstable grip on reality, the narration has a lyrical style, with very brief chapters. Interspersed into the writing are interesting details that are outside of the traditional text—dark and blurry photographs, mixtape playlists created by the characters, and citations from the school—which aid in the storytelling in an interesting way. There are undercurrents of a possible romantic relationship between the two male characters, which isn’t specifically addressed until the very end of the book and, even then, is still steeped in ambiguity. The disjointed nature of the novel is a deliberate choice made by the author and does not speak to a lack of skill on her part. Instead, the confusion is haunting and adds to the narrative’s general tone of unease. This book is ultimately about mental illness and the pain of both experiencing it and helping a loved one through it. For this reason, the content may be upsetting to those who have personal experience in either of these roles.
*Contains severe language, severe sexual content, mild violence.