Book Review: Kens by Raziel Reid

Kens – Raziel Reid (Penguin Teen, 2018)

This book was not for me. I mean that in two ways. One: I didn’t really enjoy it and found myself aggravated by the characters and their actions. Two: I’m not at all the target audience of this book. 

Kens takes place in some sort of alternate universe in a town called Willows where three high schoolers named Ken rule. They are almost identical, sculpted by the same plastic surgeon. They’re flamboyant, cruel, and gay. I don’t feel qualified to comment on their representation of gay teenagers except to say it isn’t a positive one. The Kens get what they want through sexual harassment, exploitation, and abuse. At one point they cause and encourage a national trend of suicides among gay teenagers. 

The main character, Tommy Rawlins, is also gay. (In this alternate universe suburb it seems that most people are gay or pretending to be gay or want to be gay) and is taken by surprise when he is chosen to be the fourth Ken. He’s re-made by the same plastic surgeon in the Ken’s image but (of course) it’s not quite everything he dreamed it would be. There is also the mysterious new kid, Blaine, who wants to shake up the town of Willows.

As I said, I’m not the target audience here. This is a young adult book and its full of current references to technology and communication and internet. (Tumblr plays an important part.) I went to high school before anyone had cell phones and if you had a beeper it meant you were a drug dealer. Yet at the same time a lot of the media references felt dated. The book’s own blurb calls it a cross between The Heathers and Mean Girls. Those movies are from 1989 and 2004. The Heathers was a dated reference when I was in high school. There were others scattered throughout the novel as well. Do teenagers today even know the song “Barbie Girl”?

Though maybe this is what Reid counted on. (He’s 28, I checked.) If you’ve seen The Heathers then you know exactly what happens in Kens. There are no surprises with Blaine’s character or the relationship between him and Tommy or what happens to the Kens. And so the book ends with a whimper, not a bang. I’m not sure what we’re supposed to have learned, if anything. Tommy isn’t particularly likeable or compelling. The Kens, who are supposed to have this unstoppable charisma and invoke insane desire in all who see them, don’t project that on paper and the whole thing just feels unbelievable.

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: Kens by Raziel Reid”

  1. I’ve been curious about Raziel Reid’s new book, but didn’t know anything about it. I’m glad you tried it out for me – it doesn’t sound like a book I want to read!

    1. I did! And it definitely had parts that were hard to read, but it also seemed to have something to say. The Kens just sounds mean.

    2. Agreed. I wouldn’t say I liked the first one but it felt like it had a message. Kens was like he was just trying to be cool and edgy.

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