The Importance of Being Wilde at Heart

Delacorte. Aug. 2019. 352p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781101938218.
Gr 7 Up–Ken Z decides to go Bunburying on the rich side of his Pacific island town when he meets Ran and they hit it off over their joint love of Oscar Wilde (Ken Z’s friends have an Oscar Wilde book club at school). Ran even looks like Oscar Wilde. Ran is from North Kristol, which is rich and militaristic, doesn’t let anyone in, and barely lets anyone out. Ken Z’s South Kristol is lower middle class but more liberal. Ken Z ditches his whole spring break as he falls in love with Ran. But shortly afterward, Ran disappears and Ken Z spirals into depression, further isolating himself from his friends as he skips school to languish in his bedroom and write out his feelings. The book is a mixed format of prose, play, texts, poetry, conversations, and letters that create a melodramatic monologue. Wilde, who was also a member of the LGBTQ community, is an invisible friend/ghost in the novel, and there are a lot of allusions to his work. The island of Kristol is reminiscent of Korea politically, and there is discussion of civil rights, mainly with regard to censorship and LGBTQ rights. With all of this complexity, not much happens in the plot and the characters are all flat.
VERDICT Teens who like literary allusions and mysteries without resolution might push through this one. Otherwise, not recommended.

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