The Next Chapter

Raziel Reid's novel Kens is a satirical take on high school hierarchies

The West Coast author discusses writing his follow-up to When Everything Feels like the Movies.
Raziel Reid is an author of YA fiction. (Tallulah/Penguin Random House Canada)

Vancouver's Raziel Reid is no stranger to YA. His first book, When Everything Feels like the Movies, won the 2014 Governor General's Literary Award for children's literature — text and was defended by Elaine "Lainey" Lui on Canada Reads 2015.

His latest YA novel, Kenstakes on plastic pop culture and high school hierarchies. It satirically looks at sexuality, gender and status with the intent to shock and inspire.

Guys and dolls

"Kens is set in Willows, Wisconsin, the original fictional home town of the Barbie doll before she relocated to Malibu. Every character is named after a Mattel doll. The world that I designed is inspired by Mattel's subversive product history, perhaps best exemplified in 1965's 'Slumber Party' Barbie, complete with a pink scale permanently set at 110 lbs and a diet book with one rule, 'Don't eat.'"

All that glitters 

"Willows High is ruled by a clique of boys named Ken who are all made in the image of the 'Earring Magic' Ken doll. You have to be gay to be a Ken and they are at the top of the high school hierarchy. Tommy Rawlins is at the bottom and dreams of being as glamourous as the Kens. Then he is personally selected by the Kens to made over in their image and sit on the top shelf next to them. He is forced to reconcile that behind shimmering images of perfection often lies an ugly truth."

Studs and stereotypes

"My favourite Mattel controversy is that of the 'Earring Magic' Ken doll who was released in 1992. That doll was the first gay Ken, unofficially, but so obviously was. He looked like the stereotypical gay guy of the era. Needless to say, he was quickly discontinued."

Raziel Reid's comments have been edited for length and clarity.