In the high school of Raziel Reid’s Kens, the key to popularity is being a gay Ken doll — literally. Ken Hilton’s father is a plastic surgeon who turns all subsequent Kens into perfectly sculpted, blonde, blue-eyed clones. They rule the town with their utter hotness until uncool guy Tommy and hot newcomer Blaine team up to take them on.
Kens is described as Heathers meets Mean Girls with a gay twist, but the writing reminds me more of the reviews I’ve read of Tyra Banks’ Modelland. The jokes are bawdy and crass, which isn’t bad in itself, but they’re just too obvious to really land. The humour seems better suited to a South Park scene or an SNL sketch — it’s so reliant on shock value that it loses its impact when dragged out for a full book.
Kens attempts to be a satire/parody on celebrity culture in the Instagram age, but isn’t quite sharp nor incisive enough to be effective. At times, it’s hard to tell what the target of its humour is — for example, I assume one of the Kens being a drag queen named Sandy Hooker who wears a necklace of bullets is supposed to skewer people like Ken, who appropriate tragedy for likes, but it’s a sight gag that also seems to poke fun at the Sandy Hook tragedy itself.
Or when [spoiler redacted] going viral sets of a trend of copycat attempts, I can see how Reid takes the trend of videotaping dangerous stunts for views to the extreme for parody’s sake, but I can’t help feeling like the story sneers not just at the celebrities who knowingly encourage dangerous behaviour, but also at the people who follow suit. A lot of the dark humour in Kens tries to punch up, but ends up inadvertently punching down at the same time. In a way, it almost feels worse, that while the story deliberately tears down the Kens of this world, the countless, often nameless, other characters end up as mere cannon fodder.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.