Book Review

The Wicker King

The Wicker King

  • Author: K. Ancrum
  • Genre: YA Contemporary
  • Publication Date: October 31, 2017
  • Publisher: Imprint

CONTENT WARNING: depression, hallucinations, violence, panic attack, neglect, institutionalization, extreme codependency

Rating: 4 out of 5.

August and Jack have never lived in the same world

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. It’s something they keep for themselves, and they rely on each other for survival. 

When Jack begins to see increasingly vivid hallucinations, August decides to help Jack the only way he knows how—by believing him, and believing in the fantasy kingdom that creeps into the edges of the real world.

Jack leads August on a quest to fulfill a dark prophecy, and together they alienate everyone around them as they struggle with their sanity, free-falling into a surreal fantasy world that feels made for them. In the end, each one must choose his own truth.

Written with vivid intensity, The Wicker King explores a relationship fraught with tension, madness, and love.

I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting myself into with this book, but it sounded intriguing, and I was right about that part. The first thing that I noticed was as the story gets progressively darker, and the boys slip into their shared madness, the pages get darker. The pages start out all colored off-white with black writing, and gradually become shaded darker and darker, until close to the end, when the pages are completely black with white writing. 

This book is absolutely phenomenal, and I’m honestly not even sure how to process my thoughts into a coherent review. But I’m going to try. It isn’t organized like a typical book. The chapters are super short. Like a single page. Sometimes only a few paragraphs. It almost feels more like a journal. It follows a timeline, occasionally delving back into the past when it is relevant to the story. Interspersed are reports, photos, drawings, notes, etc. They all form a linear story that makes complete sense, but it’s unique. 

The story is told from August’s POV. He’s intriguing, as is Jack. They’re in such a codependent relationship that developed as a survival mechanism. My heart breaks seeing these two boys depending on each other just to get by, and struggling so much. Reading this book was like watching one boy break down completely, and see how it completely affects the other’s life too. And there was a huge part of me that wondered how there wasn’t a single adult in either of their lives that caught it at all, leaving these two boys to handle things that even adults have a hard time dealing with on their own:

“He’s seen Jack fall and sprinted toward the pit; August had leaped off the edge and dove headlong into the darkness behind him. He would pull them both out of the deep with his bare hands.”

As someone who has worked in mental health, with people who lived with severe mental illness, including psychotic disorders, it was especially interesting to have an insight into what someone sees as they descend into hallucinations. I got the distinct impression that despite Jack’s honesty with August, there are still things that he held back. But at least he knew that August would still love and accept him no matter what.

“He did things like this often. Checked to see if his memories were real.”

The connection between Jack and August was absolutely fascinating. While the relationship definitely wasn’t a healthy one, it became something that they each depended on for day-to-day survival. And more than that, it was clearly more than just a close friendship, even if August wasn’t fully aware of it for much of the time. There was one point in the book where I was convinced *something* was happening, but it was clearly written to be misleading — because it wasn’t quite what I thought it was and I had a good laugh at myself. But there’s definitely LGBTQ rep in the book, and once it appears, I wasn’t surprised at all. In addition, I loved the banter between August and Jack:

“‘You seem happier than usual,’ Jack said.

‘I’m actively frowning, Jack.’

Pfft, like that means anything. You frown all the time. Usually you have this extra rage wrinkle between your eyebrows, but it’s gone now.’”

This book was intense, emotional, and incredible. I was hooked early on, and it’s one of those stories where an event close to the end was shared early on, but the circumstances surrounding it aren’t known until it actually happens. By the end, everything is tied up with a beautiful bow, and I was so satisfied that I actually closed the book with a sigh. I loved not just the story, but the message that the author conveyed through it. 

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