Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, Little Brown and Company, 2011, ISBN 978-0-316-12928-2
When Lucky Linderman creates a suicide survey for a class assignment, his parents and teachers see it as a cry for help. Lucky doesn’t think he’s suicidal but he’s certainly unhappy. Nader McMillan, the school bully has increased Lucky’s beatings, both at school and at the local pool. His dad has retreated into his restaurant so that he doesn’t have to deal with his grief of his father, who disappeared while fighting in Vietnam. His mother swims obsessively and stays in denial about the dysfunctional family. The only person Lucky can talk to is his POW grandfather. They meet in Lucky’s dreams where the two of them attempt to escape the Vietnam jungle and return home. Lucky wants to be brave and courageous like his grandfather, but finds it hard to confront an enemy as sadistic as Nadir.
When Nader’s bullying becomes too much, Lucky’s mother finally takes action and forces Lucky into a forced vacation to her brother’s house in Arizona. Once there, Lucky encounters new challenges, including his pill popping aunt and philandering uncle. He also meets rebellious hair model Ginny, which makes his stay feel less like a prison sentence and more like a second chance.
King has crafted an engaging novel that tackles important issues without coming off as simplistic or preachy. The bullying Lucky experiences at the hands of Nadir is extreme and the reader sees how it isolates him from his family and friends. He can’t discuss his torture with anyone for fear that it will only anger Nadir more and make his life harder. The reader sees him struggle to manage the conflict on his own and sympathizes with his condition. While Lucky never comes off as truly suicidal, the psychological effects of Nadir’s bullying are demonstrated clearly as Lucky retreats further and further into the fantasy life with his grandfather. Even though the POW experience is treated in a surreal, dream-like fashion, the reader still comes away with an understanding of how difficult the experience is for soldiers and their families. The damage this does on Lucky’s family feels real and King provides no easy answers for family’s coping with this special kind of grief.
When King transfers the story to sunny Arizona, the novel becomes lighter and more comedic, which this reader appreciated. Lucky’s aunt is a great send up of every new age, self-help guru who has more mental and emotional problems than anyone she’s trying to help. Even though she is an easy character to satirize, King doesn’t keep her a two-dimensional character and adds depth to her fragile personality.
Lucky Linderman’s high school life is so bad he prefers spending time in a Vietnam POW camp with his grandfather. The only problem is that the bullying he experiences is real, while the conversations he has with his missing grandfather are not. A.S. King blends the real and imaginary in Everybody Sees the Ants to show how courage and strength can be gained by allowing others, both real and imaginary, to help.
Information about the author
From the author’s Wikipedia page we learn that “A.S. King is the author of the Edgar Award nominated, Michael L. Printz Honor Book Please Ignore Vera Dietz, described as “deeply suspenseful and profoundly human” by Publishers Weekly and picked as one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books for Teens 2010. She is also the author of The Dust of 100 Dogs, described as “undeniably original” by Booklist and picked as an ALA Best Books for Young Adults.
Recently returned from Ireland, where she spent over a decade living off the land, teaching adult literacy, and writing novels, King now lives deep in the Pennsylvania woods with her husband and children. Her next YA novel, Ask the Passengers, about acceptance, small town gossip and airplanes, is due in Fall 2012. Learn more at http://www.as-king.com
Young Adult Fiction
English, History, Psychology, Health
What can be done to prevent bullying?
When can retreating into a fantasy life be healthy?
Reading Level / Interest Age
Grade 9 and up
The book deals with sadistic bullying in high school. The author focuses on the psychological effects of this treatment, without describing it in graphic detail.
Why did I include this title?
I became interested in the novel when I read its starred review in School Library Journal. I enjoyed books that incorporate magical realism into their storytelling. When the review stated, “King’s heartfelt tale easily blends realism and fantasy…. A haunting but at times funny tale about what it means to want to take one’s life, but rising above it so that living becomes the better option,” I knew I had to check it out.