Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Review - The Wicker King

The Wicker King (The Wicker King #1)
by K. Ancrum
Date: 2017
Publisher: Imprint
Reading level: YA
Book type: illustrated prose novel
Pages: 288
Format: e-book
Source: library

The Wicker King is a psychological young adult thriller that follows two friends struggling as one spirals into madness.

When August learns that his best friend, Jack, shows signs of degenerative hallucinatory disorder, he is determined to help Jack cope. Jack’s vivid and long-term visions take the form of an elaborate fantasy world layered over our own—a world ruled by the Wicker King. As Jack leads them on a quest to fulfill a dark prophecy in this alternate world, even August begins to question what is real or not.

August and Jack struggle to keep afloat as they teeter between fantasy and their own emotions. In the end, each must choose his own truth.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

WARNING: spoilers - To read this review with the spoilers hidden, check it out on Goodreads.

This is a hard book for me to review. On the one hand, I enjoyed it. On the other, there were some aspects that really rubbed me the wrong way. Often, when there are too many of the latter, enjoyment goes out the window. Strangely enough, it didn't here.

The story itself is interesting enough. So are the main characters, August and Jack. Tackling mental illness is admirable, but there were some stigmas that I don't feel were properly addressed (i.e., the first concern of their friends, the twins, was that Jack was going to pose some sort of danger; if they really were the children of a psychologist, I think they should have had a better understanding of the fact that most people with mental illness are not dangerous). There were other aspects of the mental health theme that bothered me as well. Especially the stuff in the mental health facility. I was confused as to why August even ended up there in the first place. Believing that he was sent there instead of juvie for arson simply because he asked/pleaded insanity (it's not quite clear) is a bit of a stretch, especially once we see that his doctors have diagnosed him with things like mild depression, PTSD, and codependency. (Would there be anyone left outside of mental health facilities if that's all it took to get you locked away?) I understand the whole point about the codependency between August and Jack, how it drove their relationship, and why it was important to the story. That's all fine. But when characters end up in a mental hospital, I'd like to see actual severe mental illness. Jack wasn't even technically mentally ill, as his odd behaviour and hallucinations were caused by a physical problem. I'm not sure if that was taking the easy way out or not; if he'd had severe schizophrenia, say, it would have complicated things.

The book also suffers from the YA absent-parent trope, and I didn't buy it. Yes, there are neglectful parents out there, but in this case it seemed too convenient, a contrived way to further drive August and Jack into each other's arms for emotional support. August's mom is some sort of agoraphobic who sits and watches game shows all day. After he ended up in the hospital, she didn't visit. I'm not even sure if she was mentioned again after that point (if she was, it was so brief a mention that I've forgotten). And Jack's parents were just unrealistic. They're supposedly away on business all the time, but they couldn't even be bothered to come home for Christmas (even after saying they would), which affords a perfect opportunity for August to "defend" his friend by punching Jack's father in the face.

The supporting characters were just... weird. John Green lite. I've never met any teenagers who talk the way the kids in this book talk. (See quote below: Rina's only supposed to be around 19.) Everyone seemed to be harbouring a secret desire to be a poet. While it made the book sound really pretty, it was jarring, rubbing against the grain of my own experiences of high school and teenagedom. I also hated Gordie, August's girlfriend. She was vile. At one point--the only point in the story, actually, where anything like this took place--there was a disgusting scene in the school bathroom which involved her giving oral sex and "riding" August's fingers (it didn't help that he just wiped his hand on his pants and went back to class when they were done). I felt like I was going merrily along, then found myself stumbling through a bit of porn. It was a short scene, but still... if you're not expecting it, it might be a bit jarring.

However, I couldn't put it down. I wanted to find out what would happen with August and Jack. Would it be something good? Or would everything fall to pieces as their lives spiralled out of control?

Quotable moment:

"Every part of the human condition is packaged neatly in fairytales. Every bit of culture that makes us who we are." She tutted at him. "When I was a girl, such things were regarded with respect."

"I've always had trouble with that," he replied dryly.

Rina scoffed and settled down on the floor. "I know. But one day you'll learn it. All virtues not granted at birth are taught to you by life, one way or another. My mother told me that."

"Your mother sounds wonderful," August said, closing his eyes.

"She was."

Premise: 3/5
Plot: 1/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing: 3/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 2.63 out of 5 ladybugs


  1. Aww no I'm so sad you didn't like this one. It's definitely one of my all-time favourites now. The author's note absolutely made me cry and I think it really highlighted how the system (even from parents to teachers to friends to police) can really really let down people with mental health/disabilities just from either not knowing what to do or ignoring the problems. It's REALLY hard to see someone spiralling down in real life and actually know how to act.

    Hope you enjoy your next read better!

    1. I agree that it highlighted what can happen when people with mental health issues don't get the support they need. However, as I mentioned in my review, I just didn't find that lack of support realistic. (It's not the first time I've seen this in YA, either. I'm reminded of a book called Wild Awake, where the main character was left alone at home for an extended period of time, just so she could spiral into bipolar disorder without anyone being around to notice. First of all, who leaves a 16-year-old by herself for weeks on end? Especially since her parents had already lost one child--you'd think they would've been hovering like crazy! In cases like that--and in The Wicker King, though to a lesser extent--it just feels like the lack of support is more of a plot device than a realistic depiction of what might actually happen if a teenager were spiralling into severe mental illness.)

      These are just my opinions, though. I'm glad you enjoyed this one!