The Wicker King is a psychological young adult thriller that follows two friends struggling as one spirals into madness.
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.
An Imprint Book
Praise for The Wicker King:
"An eerie piece of realistic fiction whose characters revel in intense emotions." —Kirkus Reviews
"An eerie and mesmerizing thriller that questions the space where reality and perception overlap, THE WICKER KING is a spine-tingling read that will have you riveted." —Caleb Roerhrig, author of Last Seen Leaving and White Rabbit
|File size:||45 MB|
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|Age Range:||15 - 18 Years|
About the Author
K. Ancrum grew up in Chicago Illinois, under the illusory rigor of the Chicago Public School system. 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 River North, Chicago, and writes books at work when no one is looking. She is the author of The Wicker King.
Read an Excerpt
They were thirteen the first time they broke into the toy factory.
It was almost midnight, it was freezing outside, and August was fucking terrified. He pushed his dark hair out of his face, plastering himself to Jack's back while Jack tried to jimmy the handle open.
"Come on, come on. You're so slow. We're going to get caught, you asshole," he whispered.
Jack ignored him. August always got mean when he was scared.
After a couple more seconds of watching Jack rattle the handle, August gave up on that approach entirely and just threw a brick through the window instead.
They both flinched at the sound of breaking glass and ducked farther into the shadows. When the police didn't burst out of nowhere and arrest them immediately, August turned back to Jack and grinned.
Jack punched him in the arm and grinned back. "Quit showing off. Race you inside?"
"Thank you, August, for getting us in. I don't know what I would do without you. Oh, you're welcome, Jack. Anything for you, princess," August deadpanned.
Jack pushed him. "Why are you such a dick? Just get inside."
They crawled in through the broken window and dropped down to the floor.
"Did you bring your flashlight?"
"No, Jack. I followed you through the night to break into an abandoned building without a flashlight."
"Seriously. Stop bitching. What is wrong with you?"
"I'm scared. I feel like I'm trapped with you in a more terrifying version of Bridge to Terabithia."
"You're not. And you need to stop reading books like that. Now give me your flashlight."
August handed it over miserably.
Jack turned it on, the dim light bringing out the hollows of his face. "Oh yeah. Ha ha ha, wow. Yeah, this might be the best place in the whole town. We are definitely coming back here in the morning."
And even though Jack's word was pretty much law, August fervently prayed that they wouldn't go back ever again.
It was August's third night in the asylum, and already he had learned several things:
1. It was never a comfortable temperature. Ever. It was always too warm or too cold.
2. Only roughly half of the rules made logical sense. The other half seemed deliberately designed to be broken accidentally.
3. You ate when they told you to and you ate what they told you to, or you didn't eat at all. (Then you got punished for that, too.)
4. No one had real blankets.
5. No one had real friends.
6. This was maybe worse than jail.
His roommate was terrified of him and wouldn't speak to him because they'd brought him into the hospital in handcuffs, straight from court, and the orderlies didn't have the kindness to explain to everyone that he wasn't actually a crazed serial murderer.
He wasn't allowed to have pencils or be unsupervised, because for some strange reason he was on suicide watch. They also made him wear a red uniform to separate him from the rest of the patients so it was clear he was a special prisoner-patient. As if the "handcuffed prison-guard parade" wasn't enough.
And worst of all — he had never wanted a cigarette more in his goddamn life.
But it would be a cold day in hell before that happened. They don't give lighters to arsonists.
He probably would have gotten off easier if he hadn't been so sarcastic.
It was just — they kept asking the stupidest questions. You know how small-town cops are. It was way too difficult to hold it in.
"Was the fire an accident, son?" The officer had looked tired, like he hoped August would say yes.
But, of course, August didn't. He'd just narrowed his eyes and said something rude. Then they slammed him into the holding cell so fast, it was as if he'd been begging to go.
Honestly, though. He was standing there with accelerant drying on his jeans and second-degree burns on his hands. It was a waste of everyone's time to try lying.
It was mostly his own fault for getting dragged in. But August supposed if he could blame anyone else for his current situation, it would be Jack.
Jack had always been bossy — even when they were kids. He didn't leave much room for defiance when his mind was set on something, and August had just gotten used to it. He wasn't a leader. It wasn't natural for him. He understood and accepted that. But ... sometimes it's better to have control over your own destiny.
This situation was one of those times.
Which — August thought as he tested the restraints on his wrists — was a grievous understatement.
Besides, he felt kind of bad complaining so much. Jack was doing ten thousand times worse than he was. The poor kid couldn't even go outside.
But — like every disaster they'd gotten themselves into through the history of their friendship — it hadn't started all bad. Things were actually pretty fun until that last bit with all the screaming and the flames and the ambulances.
ROOSEVELT HIGH SCORE
They didn't hang out at school, Jack and him. They were on stratospherically different popularity levels. Plus, these types of things usually had a system:
The Jocks stuck to the Jocks, the Punk kids with the Punk kids, Band Geeks, Goths, AP hard-asses, agro ROTC-ers, Stoners, Ravers, Cheerleaders, New Age Hippies, Hipsters, Grunge Kids, Gamers, Lit Nerds, Actual Nerds, Theater Kids, Druggies, Gangsters, "the Popular Crowd," and those shy, immature kids who grouped together in awkward clumps. Everyone stuck to what they knew.
Of course, there was drifting between subgroups, but it was rare.
Jack rode the edge of the Popular Crowd just by virtue of his involvement with sports, while August found himself smack between the Lit Nerds and the Druggies — roughly near the middle of the totem. It wasn't exactly glamorous, but running drugs for Daliah meant that he was part of a group of Providers of Services — notable figureheads of the high school economy — and that he could make a month's worth of "minimum wage part-time job" wages in a week. Which was important because he really needed the money.
He didn't brag about it, but the way he looked really helped with not getting caught. August was horribly neat and organized. He wore fashionable, expensive clothes that he saved up for months to buy, and he was intense about personal hygiene. He didn't like people to know that he was poor. So he was never on a suspect list because of his obvious fastidiousness, spotless record, and absolutely perfect slicked-back hair.
They really only saw each other on school property at games. Their rugby team wasn't the best, but since it was the only major sport in their town, everyone generally made a lot of hoopla about it.
August didn't even like rugby, but he went to every game anyway. Jack was ridiculously athletic and first line this year, so August couldn't make an excuse not to care. He never cheered, because that was too much work. But he went, and that seemed to be enough.
After games, they usually met up in the locker room before taking Jack's shitty Camaro out to the plains to fuck around in the grass.
Wrestle and run. That sort of thing.
It was tradition. It made it all right that they didn't see each other during the day. It was worth people not knowing that they knew each other better than anyone knew anyone, really. They were so far apart on the social spectrum that it wouldn't make sense to people if they started openly hanging out together. It would be a spectacle, and August didn't like spectacle. Some things were just meant to be private.
Jack was good-looking. He was a bit shorter than August, but not by much. He had a sharp face with clever eyes, and usually wore his hair buzzed low — but it had grown out now. He had the whole light hair–gray eyes thing going on that people went crazy for. He was also strong and athletic. That didn't mean much to August, but he'd heard girls talking about it in the hallway.
Jack was popular, unlike August, and of course he had a girlfriend. Her name was Carrie-Anne: a bottle-blond, UGG-booted, North Face–wearing prepster with a perfect GPA.
August loathed her.
He could've written sonnets about her pouty lips and golden hair and ivory skin and melodious voice. Not because he admired those things in the slightest — he couldn't have cared less about the way she looked. It was because he had to constantly listen to Jack's moony-eyed chattering.
It's not that August didn't like girls.
He just didn't like her.
August's mother was special.
She was an indoor mother who never went outside, except in emergencies. But still — August loved her.
She was suffering from a Great Big Sad that she chased away with pills and sleep and game shows. Everything was hard for her. Getting up was hard, getting dressed was hard. Sometimes eating or even sitting up was hard.
Everything was a learning experience. And luckily for him, by the time his parents were divorced and the Big Sad came to visit, he was old enough to use the stove and clean up after himself. He got good at it.
Then, a couple of years later, when Jack's parents started traveling a lot for work, he found himself in the position to take responsibility for Jack, too. It wasn't a burden, because he was used to it and because he was prepared.
Sometimes, especially when he was cooking, he felt like maybe the Great Big Sad took his mom so he would be ready for Jack. Like the fear and depression that choked her until she couldn't move made it so that when Jack stumbled into his house three years ago and admitted that he hadn't seen his own mom in weeks, August was ready to sit him down and make him some soup.
It was a selfish thought.
He pushed it away whenever he could.
THE OTHER WOMAN
Jack slung his backpack onto the floor and collapsed onto August's bed, jolting him awake.
"I met a girl today, August. A girl I think you would like."
August opened one brown eye, then closed it again. His jet-black hair stuck up every which way, like he'd rolled himself violently down a hill. He rubbed his face and sighed loudly.
"Don't be like that. You already kind of know her. She graduated last year."
"Rina Medina. I was at the library and she was trying to check out some books, but she forgot her library card and she looked like she was in a hurry. So I gave her mine. I figured it would give us a reason to find her again."
August opened both his eyes for the sole purpose of glaring at Jack derisively. "You need to stop talking to strangers."
"She's not a stranger. She's just older, she graduated two years ago. Besides, you and I both know that that doesn't apply to strangers who are around our age. Also, she invited us to a poetry reading and we're going," Jack declared.
"You don't even like poetry." August could feel a headache catching up with him.
"Yeah. Of course I fucking don't. It's boring as shit. But you do. I swear you'll like her. Just put on some clothes. We're leaving at eight."
RINA MEDINA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT
It was crowded and dark.
August was pushed so close to Jack that he was practically resting his head on his shoulder. He slung his arm around Jack's neck so it would seem more intentional than just continuing to awkwardly breathe on his neck.
The first two poets were okay. But it was that type of poetry that's really personal and eventually escalates into yelling. The type he didn't like.
"This is her," Jack whispered into the side of his face.
August craned his neck to see.
She was kind of small, Indian or Pakistani, and wore a glittery dress with small pink barrettes in her hair and gold heels. She had wild dark eyebrows that made looking at her face feel like one was looking into a storm. And she wore entirely too much makeup, but applied with an expert hand.
"Hi, everyone, I'm Rina Medina and I'll be reading my poem: 'Random Word Generator Input #17'":
blusness knocle nextboarted naurnel, scouslaved rassly shagion waille hanling buckspoods seaged violities, stinings arfulbring scratic stael.
grapprose lerankers dinessed ressiations visuseelling astelly concticing extrine manonloccut leeses, bravon gistertnes repulatauting mysteerly thumspine Valeen.
The entire café erupted into confused muttering and halfhearted snaps as she slowly got down from the stage, teetering dangerously on her stiletto heels.
Jack whipped around to grin at August.
"Shut up. You're right, Jack. She's fucking great. But shut up."
Rina pushed through the crowd.
"Jack from the library." She dug around in her giant red purse for a bit. "I have your card," she said as she pulled it out and handed it over. Jack shoved it in his pocket.
"Thank you so much. I really appreciate —"
"Your poem was great," August blurted, like he had no control of his mouth whatsoever. He pressed his thick lips together.
"It's a bit abstract for this crowd." Rina shrugged. "I've been trying new shit, you know? They don't really like me here ..."
She said some other stuff, but August was too busy staring at the chunky glitter all over her eyelids. What would even happen if that got inside your eye? Something awful, no doubt.
"Can you guys go somewhere else if you have to talk? There's a performance going on right now."
The barista and half the people there, including the person on stage, glared at them.
"Sure. Yeah. That would be best," Rina replied. She turned back to Jack. "Thanks for the card. See you never again, probably. It's been great."
She turned on a heel and was gone before August could even say "nice to meet you."
"She's perfect," Jack said as they were driving home later that night. "She's even mean, just like you like."
"I don't like mean girls, Jack." August leaned his head back on the car seat and closed his eyes.
"You like Gordie," Jack said pointedly.
August couldn't think of a good counterargument, so he just went to sleep.
Gym was jogging, mostly. Their teacher wasn't particularly invested in making sure they had a well-rounded physical education experience.
They just ran around and around the gymnasium as the coach sat in a foldout chair in the middle, with his whistle at the ready to startle any walkers into running.
Gordie came up on August's left side and fell into step with him.
"How ya doing, space cowboy?"
"Satisfactory. How are you?"
"Better. I broke up with Jordan."
August tossed his head back dramatically and groaned. "Fiiinnnnnally. Wasn't he that jock with the mullet?"
"Shut the fuck up, it wasn't a mullet. It was just a little long in the back."
"Whatever," August panted. "You can do better."
Gordie looked him up and down. "I have done better."
"Unusually ... forward ... for eight o'clock ... in the morning," August gasped. "But ... I'll take ... what I ... can get."
Gordie snorted. "Maybe if you didn't smoke so much, running would be easier."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." They grinned at each other.
She punched him on the arm.
She was his favorite girl.
Before Gordie transferred to their school, everyone August knew had pretty much just accepted their boring small-town fate and resigned themselves to hanging out in the woods, on the field, or at school under the bleachers. Then, one day, she'd dragged him and Alex and the twins a mile out to a better town that they hadn't even known existed. They even found a store that sold cigarettes to minors — which was pretty much the highlight of his freshman year.
August had dated her that year, but had spent more time getting playfully (violently) punched than much else. They worked better as friends, in August's opinion. He went to concerts with her these days.
Gritty things with shouting and mosh pits and rage.
It was more her scene than his, really. Gordie dove into it, war paint smeared across her face while August just leaned against a wall and watched, or closed his eyes and listened.
Afterward, he'd take her out for ice cream and tacos. Then they'd split and he'd go home to his empty bed.
He would dream of tattoos, piercings, and warm thighs and try to decide if it was worth giving them up just to avoid the punches.
August usually ate lunch with Alexandria Von Fredriech, Gordie, and the twins.
Alex was brilliant. She was extremely condescending, but useful if you needed practical advice or someone to critique your papers. She was short and round and covered in freckles. Gordie was a riot grrrl with a shaved head, stomping boots, and suspenders. She was pretty, but very, very agro.
Then, there were the twins. They were odd. They preferred to communicate in glances and gestures, finished each other's sentences, and generally reveled in being really creepy. They liked to dress alike and were difficult to tell apart, but one was definitely meaner than the other. One of them was named Roger and the other one, the meaner one, was Peter. But everyone just called them "the twins," because why bother with separate names if they were literally never apart from each other?
Once, August even caught one waiting outside a bathroom stall for the other. Just leaning against the wall and looking annoyed.
Excerpted from "The Wicker King"
Copyright © 2017 Kayla Ancrum.
Excerpted by permission of Imprint.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Roosevelt High Score,
The Other Woman,
Rina Medina, Queen of the Desert,
The Dark and the Deep,
Red Velvet, with Buttercream Icing,
Earth Space Science,
Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain,
Ball and Chain,
At the Library,
The Sprout and the Bean,
Step Up Your Game,
The Wicker King,
Friday, Under the Bleachers,
French Cut Silk,
First Receiver Falcon,
Fine Fierce Fifth,
Ruck and Maul,
My Kingdom for a Horse,
You'll Never Know, Dear,
Rosemary and Thyme,
The Cloven King Rises,
Iron and Ash,
Cell Block 3,
Like Most Terrible Things,
Halved and Bound,
Bind and Break and Find and Take,
Les Cinq Doigts,
Please, Let Me Get What I Want,
The Legend of the Golden Raven,
Note from the Author,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Wicker King by Kayla Ancrum blew me away and I am still processing it! Wow, an interesting, twisted story about two teen boys, their acquaintances, family lives and their long lasting friendship. The relationship between the young men becomes increasingly unhealthy and worries their friends, who try to help them. Things get worse before anything changes and authorities intervene. Food for thought in so many ways, 4 stars!
The story that the relationship between Jack and August creates is much like reading a Grimm’s fairytale. The narrative, told from August’s perspective, is so heart wrenchingly pure that despite seeing darkness lurking beneath the surface of every interaction the two characters have, the reader knowingly tries to shut it all out and clings to what little innocence remains in their friendship. Eventually, when the breaking point is reached, every interaction Jack and August have is a power play despite the fact the they had molded themselves to balance each other’s needs and personality perfectly. The codependency of their relationship becomes nothing short of haunting and I believe it’s safe to say that this is a psychological thriller at its best. It’s a must read.
Jack and August are best friends, but they're also more than that. Jack once saved August's life. Now it's Jack who needs to be saved, but his situation is incredibly complicated. Jack has hallucinations and a fantasy kingdom becomes part of his everyday world. It's difficult for him to know the difference between what others are experiencing and what he alone sees. Jack's parents are never there and August also doesn't have a stable home situation, so they're on their own. August is responsible for his friend's wellbeing and deals with it by trying to make Jack's world become reality. They go on an adventure, but what they're coping with together is bound to spiral out of control and when it does it will have grave consequences. August and Jack only have each other to fall back on. August has to make sure there's enough money to pay the basics at home, which doesn't give him the opportunity to have a rich social life. Jack used to be a talented rugby player, but his hallucinations are standing in his way. There are few people who know what the two friends, who might feel more for each other than just friendship, are dealing with, nobody is close enough to them to figure it out. Their sanity is at stake, what will happen when matters come to an inevitable peak, can they handle the aftermath and will their love and friendship survive? The Wicker King is a beautiful heartbreaking story. August and Jack have a deep complex bond. There's mutual understanding, unequal friendship and unconditional love. They find themselves in a situation they're too young and inexperienced for to deal with, but they only have each other, so they're finding their way, even if it isn't the most healthy or right one. I was impressed by how K. Ancrum describes their struggles, she does this with so much understanding and insight. I loved the special connection Jack and August have. It's pure, twisted and painful, but it's also precious and promising. There are many contrasts in this book, the real world versus Jack's fantasy world is another one I absolutely loved. K. Ancrum makes it come to life in a fantastic emphatic way that greatly moved and impressed me. The Wicker King is a brilliant book. I can't praise this story enough. It has so many gorgeous emotional layers, the love K. Ancrum writes about is unconditional and profound. She's written a thought-provoking story that's compelling, poignant and innovative. The artwork that accompanies the story makes it come to life in a great vibrant way. There are drawings, documents and maps for example that are giving the story so much extra detail. The Wicker King is dynamic, filled with restless energy, raw, tragic, hopeful, delicate and incredibly alluring. I highly recommend this mindblowing story.
The Wicker king centers around August and his best friend, Jack. This book reeled me in quick; I couldn’t put it down and I blew through it in a few sittings. It’s written in such a poetic and unique way. Even the formatting is incredibly unique. The chapters are very short and there are few pictures and illustrations in between. The two boys you see on the cover? Yeah, you’ll see more of them. I felt like these little snippets made the characters all the more real, almost too real… I immediately fell for these characters. August…even thinking about him makes me want to wrap him up in a warm blanket. He has to fend for himself, taking care of his mom and selling drugs for money. He is loyal to the people he loves to a fault. Jack is infinitely less responsible. He comes from a well-off family but his parents are almost never home so August is the one who takes care of him, cooking for him, keeping him company on Christmas and basically being there for him in every way. These two have known each other from a very young age and they have a sweet-but-kinda-weird-and-toxic relationship. It’s hard to even describe, you’d have to read it to understand. It’s almost obsessive and too-dependent but then they’d do or say something to each other and it’s the cutest thing ever. Although, it’s not mentioned on page, I believe both main characters are bisexual. When August finds out that Jack has degenerative hallucinatory disorder his immediate reaction is to try and get help, but Jack insists that they must go on a quest in this alternate world and August, being the loyal friend he is, agrees. Jack leads them deeper and deeper into the elaborate fantasy world only he can see and soon, they’re both unsure as to what’s real and what’s fantasy. Things spiral down fast and their relationship strains as they both try to figure out the connection between them. August already has too much to carry and Jack’s worsening condition leaves him unraveled. The growing tension and confusion is even alluded to by the color of the pages; they get darker and darker as you go till they become all-black near the conclusion. Although I enjoyed this book, I found myself confused a few times and the ending kind of disappointed me a bit. I really wanted more from the ending. I want more of August and Jack in general. I can’t vouch for the quality of representation of bisexuality and degenerative hallucinatory disorder so I’m interested in hearing from others. This is a very unique book and quite an odd one as well, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it after I put it down. I look forward to seeing more from this author. Note: I received this ARC as part of Miss Print’s ARC Adoption Program. So, special thanks to Emma! WHAT I LIKED : • Diversity factor: Bisexual main characters • Representation of Pyromania and Degenerative hallucinatory disorder
I went into this book not knowing anything about it and I read it in three hours, I could not put it down. I did not want to put it down, I needed to know what happened. K. Ancrum hooked me instantly and I was intrigued and scared and sad and then happy and I loved every sentence of this book.
Originally posted on bayyinwonderland.wordpress.com 4 Stars The Wicker King is a lush tale of co-dependence, magic, and how far you would go for someone you love. Like August, we're slowly introduced to the world of the Wicker King. The world itself is lush and confusing, a fantasy version of the past living unseen over top of ours. I was disappointed we never really went there or explored much of it. The extremely short chapters helped the pacing and tone of the novel. The more Jack sees of the other world, the less time August has to help him and figure out what the hell is really going on. The shorter chapters really highlight the urgency and help you really glean the gravity of the situation. The graphics and photos involved were perfect. They were never distracting and were always there to enhance the prose, not fill in what the prose couldn't do. I would consider this an LGBTQ+ book, even though no one labels themselves on page. It is hinted in the summary about their feelings so I feel confident in my categorization. The biggest thing I loved about Jack and August was how messy their relationship is. Honestly, they're a mess. Their homes lives suck. The romantic lives they have apart from each other are messy and complicated, filled with jealousy and confusion. In their own relationship, there's a power struggle. August himself admits it's probably borderline abusive. But humans are messy and so are our relationships. I'm not saying this a healthy relationship or one you should strive to have by any means, but it's so refreshing to saw an LGBTQ+ relationship that messy, raw, and real. To often it's a fairy tale, perfect ending or a devastatingly heartbreaking one. We're human beings too and it's okay to write us that way. Overall, this book should be on your TBR. What a better time to read it then the spooky, fall season?