Author: A. S. King
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: October 3rd 2011
Hardcover: 288 pages
Lucky Linderman didn’t ask for his life. He didn’t ask his grandfather not to come home from the Vietnam War. He didn’t ask for a father who never got over it. He didn’t ask for a mother who keeps pretending their family is fine. And he certainly didn’t ask to be the recipient of Nadar McMillan’s relentless bullying, which has finally gone too far.
Lucky has a secret—one that helps him wade through the daily dysfunction of his life. Grandad Harry, trapped in the jungles of Laos, has been visiting Lucky in his dreams—and the dreams just might be real: an alternate reality where he can be whoever he wants to be and his life might still be worth living. But how long can Lucky remain in hiding there before reality forces its way inside?
Printz Honor recipient A. S. King’s distinctive, smart, and accessible writing shines in this powerful novel about learning to cope with the shrapnel life throws at you, and then taking a stand against it.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: I got a review copy at BEA
Why did I read this book: Although I wasn’t a huge fan of King’s first book The Dust of 100 Dogs, I absolutely, completely loved her second, Please Ignore Vera Dietz and since Everybody Sees the Ants seems to be similar to the latter, I had to read it.
15-year-old Lucky Linderman may be the most inaptly named kid ever. His family is scarred by the tragic disappearance of his grandfather during the Vietnam War, his father is emotionally distant as a direct result of growing up without a father and his mother spends her time at the pool in a clear attempt to avoid her marital troubles. On top of that, Lucky has been bullied by his classmate, a nasty little bugger called Nader, ever since he can remember and no one will do anything about it despite the clear signs that he is under duress. After a particularly nasty attack from Nader, his mother takes him away to spend a few weeks with her brother and his wife in Arizona. It is there that Lucky will understand a bit more about life and learn how to deal with his problems.
Everybody Sees the Ants is a novel of magical realism so there are very surreal elements interspersed with the very realistic issues aforementioned. For years, Lucky has been dreaming about his grandfather – in these dreams he is the hero out in missions to rescue his granddad from his Vietnamese prison. After each dream, he comes back to the awaken world with a very real souvenir. On top of that, after the most recent encounter with Nader, Lucky starts seeing the ants and they function as a Greek chorus, expressing thoughts and feelings on behalf of Lucky.
Although I am not usually a fan of magical realism, because I tend to find it difficult to suspend disbelief, I thought the particular elements used here – the dreams and the chorus of ants – were well incorporated into the story and worked as a great addition never taking over to the point of distraction. Quite the contrary, the dreams performed a really important function giving Lucky some measure of control over his life and the funny ants offered a welcome respite from the seriousness of the novel.
Because this is a very serious novel and it deals with very serious issues. The bullying that Lucky suffers is horrible and even though he says he is ok – making him not exactly the most reliable of narrators – it is clear that he is not. There is not only a degree of stress and fear but also of deep trauma. There are things he doesn’t say, not even to himself. He repeats that he is not suicidal and the mere fact that he repeats that constantly is quite telling. Above all though, there is Lucky’s frustration with his parents and their inability to stand up for him, not even a little bit. Although their parents obviously believe he is being bullied, their inaction or even the fact they won’t listen to him and discuss the problem is unsettling.
The beautiful thing here though is the way that the author humanises these adult characters making it plain that bullying is something that befuddles everybody. His parents don’t act because they don’t love him or don’t care about Lucky, they don’t act because they don’t know what to do. This book explores the fact that there are no easy answers and no parenting manual – their most accessible suggestion is to get on with life and get through it until it gets better. Which brings us back to Lucky himself: he fully understands the idea that eventually it will get better – he can see that, and he believes that. Unfortunately that does nothing to him now. He needs it to be better right now or else he won’t make it. Eventually there is a realisation that sometimes there isn’t anything anyone else can do and all you have is yourself. With the help of new-found friends and even his family, Lucky finds strength to stand up for himself the best way he can. The ending might be a bit too neat and perfect but is so full of the compassion and the warmth that the characters needed that I allowed myself to give a pass to some of the more problematic aspects (like for example, what happens to Nader). Plus, bonus points for incredible pieces of dialogue (the “asshole” one being a favourite).
Ultimately I didn’t think Everybody Sees the Ants was as powerful as Please Ignore Vera Dietz but it is still an excellent novel which I highly recommend.
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
“Son, there will always be bullies in your life. Some people just don’t know how to act.”
Always? I know this sounds totally stupid, but sometimes I really can’t see the point in living if I will always have to deal with this crap. I know I will have better times in my life, and I might even make myself into someone important, but if the whole time I have to deal with assholes, then what’s the point?
I know if I said this out lout, Aunt Jodi would call an ambulance or something, but instead of shutting me up over it, why can’t they just answer me?
I think it’s because they feel bad for not making it fair. Rather than actually fix it, they freak out on kids who say things like, “I’d rather suck truck fumes than go through one more day of this place.”
Hasn’t anyone said something like that at least once? And really – I would rather suck truck fumes than deal with this sort of shit forever. Mom says that Nader is a loser who will grow up to be a loser and that I’ll understand when I’m forty. But I want to understand now.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: How to Save a Life by Sarah Zarr
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