Reigning queens

  • by Jim Piechota
  • Tuesday November 20, 2018
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Kens by Raziel Reid; Penguin Teen, $17.99

In "Kens," Canadian author Raziel Reid's satirical, razor-sharp homo hybrid of "Heathers" and "Mean Girls," the snobby popular clique consists of tongue-clucking twinks who wear baby pink short-shorts and 8-carat diamond earrings, and worship Baphomet. It's a Barbie world where the boys rule on thrones laden with sequined pink fabric and "ditch most classes and hold court in the caf. They sometimes show up for exams, but mostly just to take a selfie of themselves taking the exam in their cutest nerd-chic outfit."

These nearly identical bitchy blond "Kens" (Ken Hilton, the lead queen, and his dutiful followers Ken Roberts and Ken Carson) aren't mere teenagers at Willows High in Willows, Wisconsin, but glittery queens of the highest order who shoot Botox, endure plastic surgery to look identical, and pad their already perky bodies with butt, pec, cheek, chin, and eyelash implants, with a flare of glamorous superiority.

Awkward student Tommy Rawlins yearns to be one of these A-listers, and is given that opportunity with a Ken-sanctioned makeover resulting in dramatic facial reconstruction and a look "like he's just rubbed cocaine along the inside of his gums and is about to sell everyone's secrets to Radar Online." But things don't gel as they should, and Tommy is swiftly rebuffed by Ken Hilton. Pressure mounts as fast as the thirst for revenge, and as "the magic bleeds out of him," a murderous counterattack plot is hatched between Tommy and school newcomer Blaine to overthrow the lead Ken and assume his throne.

All of this vainglorious, candy-coated hoopla can be quite hilarious, particularly if you're a younger reader with a snarky sense of humor and a keen eye for our consumerist, self-obsessed, hashtag culture. Amidst all the attitude, judgmental side-eyes, glitter, and glam, there is a dark thread running through the book. Things get murky and gravely suicidal in its final third when the fate of a few Kens is spelled out, and what's left of the popular group is left to pick up the pieces of a high school in serious shock.

Blogger and former columnist Reid, who has an acting degree from the New York Film Academy, is best known for his controversial young-adult novel debut "When Everything Feels Like the Movies," based on the 2008 murder of gay teenager Lawrence Forbes King. It won the Governor General's Award for children's literature in 2014, when Reid was just 24.

This new work is not for every taste, but dark-humored entertainment with a conscience and hinged on Instafamous societal obsessions does have its place on certain bookshelves. If you enjoy it, Reid has more gay on the way: a new novel called "Followers," a take on the vanity of the Instagram culture, arrives next year.