The Wicker King by K. Ancrum
The format of this book hits you first. The chapters are really (really) short. There are photos, documents, and other “visuals” that help tell the story. The narrator is unreliable and his friend is unreliable. Because of all of these things, it’s sometimes hard to figure out what is going on or what a character is actually thinking or feeling, rather than what they appear to be thinking or feeling. The prologue starts in media res, and the narrator occasionally has memories or flashbacks of memories throughout the book, so the story isn’t very linear, either. But August (the narrator) clearly notes when that is happening, rewarding your close attention. Your mileage may vary just based on the structure and format, but I loved it.
The narrator’s best friend, we learn, is suffering from hallucinations, so part of the plot is the narrator trying to figure out what to do about the hallucinations in terms of a mental illness, and part of the plot is the narrator trying to figure out what to do about the hallucinations in terms of actual real things that are happening in another world.
So yes, this is a tricky book to read, but well-worth it. It explores mental illness, toxic friendships, healthy friendships, child neglect (degrees of), child abuse (degrees of), and what real emotional and mental support is. I loved the two main characters, as well as their “staff” of supporting characters: the twins Peter and Roger, who care too much and are Angry About It; Rina, the lonely graduate trying to make it; and the rest. I liked that even though August and Jack were trapped in some ways, and felt 100% alone and trapped, the book was subtly showing all of the helpers that they had around them, who ultimately keep them from a Real Bad Ending.
I do have some problems with the book, mostly in how the third act plays out. It seems too neat, considering the GIANT MESS OF PROBLEMS that the characters have to deal with. Mental health is important and difficult, and I didn’t feel like either of the MCs had properly dealt with the co-dependency, everything else aside. I worry about Jack and August in the future, whether they’ll learn to lean on their support system, whether they’ll learn to not lean on each other so much; whether they will let go of the hallucinations or if those will still play out in their lives somehow (that last page implied that they’ve still got some serious kinks to work out, pun intended).