Review: The Wicker King by K. Ancrum

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Title: The Wicker King
Author: K. Ancrum
Format: E-ARC
Publication: October 31st 2017 by Imprint
Source: Author (thank you so much, Kayla!)
Genre: Fiction—Psychological Thriller, Realistic
Other classifications: Depression and Mental Illness, LGBTQIAYoung Adult

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Synopsis

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.

Review

I received a review copy from the author which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

Ancrum examines love, friendship, and mental illness in her debut The Wicker King—a quiet, dark, and beautiful novel told in vignettes.

It’s 2003. August Bateman, a poor boy of mixed race, tries to earn extra money by running drugs in their high school. Jack Rossi, a popular, light-haired varsity rugby player, seems to enjoy a perfect life. The two are so far apart on the social spectrum that it shouldn’t make sense for them to be friends and yet they are. In fact, they know each other better than anyone knows anyone. So when Jack starts showing signs of degenerative hallucinatory disorder, August comes to his aid, determined and inclined to do anything. But can two boys keep each other from spiraling into madness? This is at the core of Ancrum’s work. This sense of responsibility one imposes upon himself to save and protect someone. And the author does a remarkable job of writing in this raw, muted, and haunting style, of exploring what it means to be a friend, to love someone so fiercely, and to be young and believe you’ve got everything under control but at the same scared that something will go wrong.

“They were only seventeen. The world was so big and they were very small and there was no one around to stop terrible things from happening.”

In her website, Ancrum described the type of kids she writes about as “complex and beautiful and interesting and passionate” but “frightening.” And I think that’s such a spot on observation of her own writing because what’s really striking about The Wicker King, for me at least, is how nuanced August is and how complex his relationship with Jack is. There certainly were scenes where I wanted to simultaneously hug August and punch him in the face. And there were parts where I longed to care for him, to take him as far away from his home of parental neglect as possible. But it wasn’t just him. I spent half the book rooting for Jack to be okay, for things to work out in the end, but also wanting to shake him. For all the terrible decisions. For all the twisted ways they treated each other. And then there were those quieter moments where a secondary character did a random act of kindness and I was left tearing up. Clearly, I was very emotionally invested in this narrative.

“I am doing this for you. Not the Wicker King. Not what we have become. But for you. If anything goes wrong, I want you to remember that.”

Another central theme of the novel—one I wasn’t expecting but turned out to be so embedded in the story—is codependency. I’m lucky to have never had any personal experience with serious mental health issues, but I think it’s worth noting that the manner with which the author addressed such an important conversation was thoughtful and brave. I won’t go into details lest I give away too much, but August and Jack’s friendship is intense, underscored by hunger and a distorted sense of duty, and not once did Ancrum shy away from that.

“They were stronger together; they were always stronger together.”

There’s the technical aspect, to boot. The story unfolds in these extremely short chapters, which I absolutely adore. Although, I can see how this fragmented style might not be for everyone. The writing is gorgeous. There were passages (“like a secondhand kiss on a breath of ash”) where I was silently sobbing but also thinking, that is a beautiful line. It’s wistful, eerie and poignant. And then there are the police reports, photographs, and notes and the color of the pages gradually darkens until the last act plays out and it’s white type on black. A brilliant metaphor for the overall tone and trajectory of the book.

The Wicker King is without a doubt one of the best titles I read in 2017 and I strongly recommend it, especially for people who are always on the look out for something different to read.

5.0 out of 5

Author

Kayla Ancrum 01

K. Ancrum grew up in Chicago Illinois. She attended Dominican University to study Fashion Merchandizing, but was lured into getting an English degree after spending too many nights experimenting with hard literary criticism and hanging out with unsavory types, like poetry students. Currently, she lives in Andersonville and writes books at work when no one is looking.

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Are you going to be picking up Jack and August’s story anytime soon? How can you not? Have I convinced you to? What are some of your favorite quiet YAs? Or novels in verses? Sound off in the comments below!Signature 02

REVIEW: Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

Title: Vanishing Girls
Author: Lauren Oliver
Format: Paperback, 357 pages
Publication: March 10th 2015 by HarperCollins
Source: Bought from National Book Store
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Crime, Psychological Thriller, Realistic, Suspense
Other classifications: Brotherhood/SisterhoodDepression and Mental Illness, Young Adult

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Synopsis

This is it: somehow, in these pictures, the mystery of the accident is contained, and the explanation for Dara’s subsequent behavior, for the silences and disappearances.

Don’t ask me how I know. I just do. If you don’t understand that, I guess you’ve never had a sister.

Review

The twist Vanishing Girls is less a crime novel, more a character study. And trust me when I say that that is for the better.

The twist Do you have a sibling? Have you ever felt the compulsion to never ever disappoint your parents because, no matter what you do, no matter how you act, no matter how much you love your sibling, you’ll always, always be compared to the other? It doesn’t matter what your position is, you’ll have this tacit rule of being the one to understand. Sometimes this builds a camaraderie, the kind that brings you to watch each other’s back, to want to protect each other’s secrets. But in most cases, this also creates a quiet, inner tension, the kind that cultivates unspoken jealousy and raises self-imposed responsibilities and expectations. This is at the heart of the Panic author’s latest novel.

“They say that you’re supposed to tell the truth. Dr. Lichme says that, anyway.
But don’t they also say that what you don’t know can’t hurt you?”

The twist Vanishing Girls is my first Lauren Oliver title and, admittedly, while it was rewarding, it didn’t make me want to devour her backlist. It took some time for the narrative to gain its footing and, even then, the thread seems to ebb and flow. Her style boarders from lyrical to maybe overly descriptive and I can see how this might come across as dragging for some. But it is one of those books where if you give up early on, you’d totally miss the gem. One of those where the more you ponder about it, the more you sit on it, the more the ingenuity of it washes over you. She commands her words, I soon found out. They are vivid, cutting and have a way of reaching deep inside you, tapping into thoughts you unconsciously carry around.

You broke my heart. I fell for you, and you broke my heart. Period, done, end of story.

The twist The story is narrated alternately by Warren sisters Nick and Dara and there are diary entries, online articles, e-mails and photographs—most of which are often eery—interspersed through out. It pre-opens with a life observation that impeccably captures the tone of the book. Then it opens officially right at the conflict, the night of the accident. Chapter 2 jumps four months later and we see a recovering Nick, the elder of the two, and the sister who refuses to talk to her, Dara. What instantly stuck out to me is how distinct and at the same time cognate Nick’s and Dara’s voices are, a manifestation of the author’s adept sense of what it’s like to have a sister and be a sister. People casually throw around the term “complex characters” but, with Nick and Dara, you’ll have a flash of instant clarity: this is what they mean with complex characters. It’s chilling and heartrending and impressive and there were instances I had to look over my shoulders.

“Sometimes people stop loving you. And that’s the kind of darkness that never gets fixed, no matter how many moons rise again, filling the sky with a weak approximation of light.”

The twist However, I think the way this book is pitched is misleading. Sure, the “vanishing girls” plot line meshes well with the family drama, but they sell this as the former when in fact it’s the other way around. The whole Madeline Snow arc felt quite removed; it’s really about the relationship between Nick and Dara. And Parker. If you’ve ever had best friends or still do, real close friendship, you’ll know that the author gets it. And Vanishing Girls wins the chicest cover award. Fantastic job, Anastasia Volkova and Erin Fitzsimmons!

“”It’ll be just like old times,” Parker says, and I feel a hard ache in my chest, a desperate desire for something lost long ago.
Everyone knows you can’t go back.”

The twist. Yes, no scratching now. Oliver must’ve rewrote and proofread her work a bajillion times because there is just no plot holes. She pulled off the reveal like it’s nobody’s business. I mean, I basically revisited a handful of chapters after she dropped the bomb. (And in case you’re wondering, I reread 70% of the book since finishing.) I don’t think I’ve read anything like this before but a close similar experience would be Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, in that both have a major WTF moment. And hell was it WTF. But this is where it becomes tricky. Because there’s no way talking around THE TWIST; I would give away too much. So just go out there, read this novel, come back to me and I can go all WHAT DID I TELL YOU? on you.

4.0 out of 5

Author

Lauren Oliver

Lauren Oliver is the author of the teen novels Before I Fall and Panic and the Delirium trilogy: Delirium, Pandemonium, and Requiem, which have been translated into more than thirty languages and are New York Times and international bestselling novels. She is also the author of two novels for middle grade readers, The Spindlers and Liesl & Po, which was an E. B. White Read Aloud Award nominee. Lauren’s novel Panic has been optioned for film by Universal Studios. A graduate of the University of Chicago and NYU’s MFA program, Lauren Oliver is also the cofounder of the boutique literary development company Paper Lantern Lit.

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Blogger’s note: I buddy-read this book with Dianne @ Oops! I Read A Book Again, exchanging “WTF was that?!!!” one too many times. You can check out her review HERE.

Now tell me: are you excited to pick this title up? Or if you’ve read it already, have you predicted the twist? Where should I go from here in the Lauren Oliver landscape? Do you like literary crime novels? What are some of your favorites? Also, do you buddy-read with your friends/co-bloggers? Tell me all about it!

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