Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Review: Everybody Sees the Ants

A.S. King
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Lucky Linderman is anything but. His dad hardly talks to him, his mother is addicted to swimming, his school thinks he's depressed, and Nadar McMillan has been bullying him for seven years. When his mother finally notices that the bullying has gone too far, she packs up Lucky and herself to stay a few weeks with her brother in Arizona, where Lucky's uncle proves to be more of a father than his actual dad and where his aunt is convinced he's going to kill himself. Meanwhile, in his dreams, Lucky is searching for his grandpa who went MIA during the Vietnam War and whose absence casts a long shadow over his family.

This is the first A.S. King book I've read and to be perfectly honest I wasn't sure what to expect. There's some question over whether Lucky's dreams are dreams or reality (they seem to hang somewhere in the in-between), so it's not entirely contemporary but the more fantastical elements never affect the plot. This is a book of family, of growing up, of bullying, and of making peace with the past, and it a lot of ways it walks the line. The characters were weirdly realistic and though I found it hard to really root for any of them I also found it difficult to dislike them. Individually the members of Lucky's family are crazy, but together they're some kind of normal, which is a strange line to walk.

In Arizona, Lucky meets a gorgeous, older girl named Ginny, who is, sadly exactly what you'd expect from that statement: beautiful, experienced, entirely out of his league though after a few hours with her he's hopelessly in love. It's worth stating that in most cases I don't have a problem with Manic Pixie Dream Girl characters, but in this book I found that Ginny was more of a trope than a character. She was a perfect cut-out of the MPDG; her being a part of Lucky's journey felt a bit obvious to me and because of this that aspect of the book fell flat.

Despite the fact that the fantastical elements and his relationship with Ginny didn't work, I loved Lucky's voice and the realizations he comes to through the course of the book. The dynamics between him, his parents, and his aunt and uncle are the strongest aspects of this book. The adults in his life are, in many instances, pretty useless in helping Lucky with his problems in school and with Nadar, yet despite that the book never vilifies them but instead show the realistic struggles each character is dealing with. The bullying aspect of this book was incredibly well-done -- so much so that for a good part of the book I felt like oh, this is too much. This is too sad. WHY IS NOBODY DOING ANYTHING!? Fortunately this hopeless attitude does not permeate the entire book and I'm so glad I kept reading.

It's interesting to note a few things that seemed "off" in this book. The fantastic elements, as I've said, felt out of place in the book. Lucky's MIA grandfather is a strong force in the novel, but I often felt like Lucky's "dreams" weren't exactly necessary in order for this to be the case, as his grandpa's influence was obvious in the way Lucky's home life was. Additionally, the novel switches back and forth from freshman year to the summer after, when Lucky is in Arizona with his mother. The chronology of the dual-stories confused me, though admittedly that might just be my problem and nothing with the book. Strangely, I don't have many books to compare this to, but if you like more experimental stories/writing, this might be right up your alley. I'd also recommend it to those looking for a book that handles the topic of bullying really well.

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