Raziel Reid’s first novel When Everything Feels Like the Movies was a national sensation, selected as the first YA novel for CBC’s Canada Reads and winning the prestigious Governor General’s Literary Award for Young People’s Literature in 2014. But some critics took issue with the book’s language and representation of sexuality, National Post columnist Barbara Kay going so far as to describe it as a “values-void novel.” Now Raziel Reid is back with another savvy and at times shocking book. Kens is a sharply-drawn satire of consumer culture and the impact of social media on the lives of teens.
Ken Hilton rules Willows High with his carbon-copies, Ken Roberts and Ken Carson. It can be hard to tell the Kens apart. There are minor differences, but all Kens are created from the same mold, straight out of Satan’s doll factory. Soul sold separately.
Tommy Rawlins can’t help but compare himself to these shimmering images of perfection. He’s desperate to fit in, but in a school where the Kens are queens who are treated like Queens, Tommy is the uncool gay kid. A once-in-a-lifetime chance at becoming a Ken changes everything for Tommy, just as his eye is caught by the tall, dark, handsome new boy, Blaine. Has Blaine arrived in time to save him from the Kens?
Raziel Reid on Satire
What does Kens mean to you?
Kens is a satire about all the things that make me sad. All the things that make me scared. All the things we try (and fail) to protect each other from. I laughed at them. And I took away their power.
There aren’t a lot of YA satires in the world. Why did you choose to use this format?
Satire in literature is a device that serves to give us an electric shock from the page so that we don’t risk becoming apathetic or complacent. In the Trump era, satire is perhaps more essential — and at risk — than ever before. In a single tweet the President of the United States can decimate a comedian’s career. The Trump administration constantly undermines the first amendment and attacks the freedom of the press, creating a rippling wave of censorship as recently seen in the firing of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cartoonist Rob Rogers for his satirical depictions of Trump.
Satire highlights, blows up, twists, and exaggerates social and political ideas to make you heal them. To give satire a trigger warning is counter-intuitive. The whole point of satire is to trigger you. Hopefully with a bit of laughter and fun. Nothing heals faster.
What authors inspired you during the writing of Kens?
My favorite satirists are considered adult fiction writers, although I read them in my teens. Writers like Bret Easton Ellis, George Orwell, Anthony Burgess, Chuck Palahniuk, and Evelyn Waugh. Young Adult satires are rare, but Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens inspired me as I wrote Kens for its hilarious commentary on unrealistic beauty standards and consumer culture.