A.S. King had an honor book last year (Please Ignore Vera Dietz), so I have been looking forward to reading Everybody Sees the Ants. This second book feels really different from Vera, although it has some elements in common: hints of magical realism and a thoughtful, intellectual center that acts as a unifying backbone to realistic, relatable characters.
The plot: Everyone seems to want to help Lucky Linderman, who came to school authorities’ attention by creating a school-wide survey on suicide his freshman year. He’s not actually considering suicide himself; he is, however, being ruthlessly tormented by Nader McMillan. Guidance counselors, teachers, his parents: all are well-meaning but don’t seem to know how to help or what to tell him. It’s only in his dreams, where Lucky is determined to rescue his grandfather (who is a POW/MIA in Vietnam since 1973), that Lucky attempts to deal with his daily life. But are his dreams only dreams? As Nader’s bullying escalates, and Lucky increasingly resents his distant, powerless father, Lucky starts to see the ants, a Greek Chorus-like group who comment honestly — and sometimes hilariously — on what goes on.
There’s a lot that I loved in this read: Lucky is an engaging narrator, and his tough, hurt, bewildered reactions to things are captivating. The shifts in time between chapters are effective, and the secondary characters are almost all complex and memorable. The ants are a conceit that really worked for me as a reader. The humor they bring to heartbreaking and upsetting situations provides a really nice balance; the funny artfully enhances the sad. I like the various connections that King weaves between bullies and wars, too. There are the public conflicts that we clearly struggle to talk about (still: Vietnam; today: Afghanistan and Iran) and the private conflicts that we can barely acknowledge. We can mostly-sort-of own our ambiguous feelings about sending young people to war but are ill-equipped to talk about the hurtful conflicts that they all experience on a day-to-day basis. (No, really ill-equipped; check out this blog and Op-Ed from danah boyd.) This is a book about hidden and public wars, and it’s thought provoking and emotional and powerful.
But. [Read more…]