Sunday, January 20, 2013

Book Rant: Everybody Sees The Ants

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 dysfunctional family is fine. And he didn't ask to be the target of Nader McMillan's relentless bullying, which has finally gone too far.

But Lucky has a secret--one that helps him wade through the mundane torture of his life. In his dreams, Lucky escapes to the war-ridden jungles of Laos--the prison his grandfather couldn't escape--where Lucky can be a real man, an adventurer, and a hero. It's dangerous and wild, and it's a place where his life just might be worth living. But how long can Lucky keep hiding in his dreams before reality forces its way inside?

Michael L. Printz Honor recipient A.S. King's smart, funny and boldly original writing shines in this powerful novel about learning to cope with the shrapnel life throws at you--and taking a stand against it.

I cleaned out the Harvard Book Store of A.S. King books. Next on my list is Please Ignore Vera Dietz (Printz Honor book). This is the same author, by the way, that wrote Ask The Passengers, but I haven't gotten to that one yet.

I think one of the major selling points about King's books is that she does modern magic realism. I don't see a whole lot of that in contemporary fiction, and she does it so well. Plus, this is a realistic, tasteful book on bullying with a likable instead of annoying, doormat male main character. The blurb says that everybody can see the ants, and everybody has a little of Lucky inside of them. It's true. Even though the level of bullying Lucky experiences has never happened to me and is utterly horrifying, I can sympathize with his plight in a very personal way. I know what it's like to think nobody wants to be friends with you, that there is nothing interesting about you. I think this is something everybody has experienced, and King brings out the pain of knowing that. She has written a book about the real thoughts of suicide from teenagers, and I would stake a bet that people are lying if they have never at least wondered about suicide. If you haven't, you are a rare breed. I have never been suicidal, but because teenaged emotions are so strong and often seem to be like the Most Profound of all things, I have certainly thought about what it would be like to kill myself (without any intention of actually doing so). It's like wondering what it would be like to attend your own funeral, and what people would say about you.

(I really hope I'm not the only weird one, and that my assumption that people think about this stuff is true.)

I love that this book has supporting characters that are flawed. I love that Granddad and Lucky's parents, Aunt Jodi and Uncle Dave -- even Charlotte Dent, a character that gets almost zero actual page time -- have a level of depth that you know is unbelievably difficult to accomplish if you have ever tried to write a novel. King is thorough and thoughtful, and genuinely an extremely good writer.

Her plot is quiet, but weirdly, very profound -- not in that way that some YA authors are, where they're actively trying to make their books seem profound. She does it effortlessly, almost as an afterthought. It makes you think. It makes you wonder. She is growing on me as one of the really notable YA contemporary writers (obviously, I am behind, as the Printz award committee has already figured that out). I don't know that I had a eureka moment after finishing and felt like it was a life-altering book. But it was solid and pretty flawless as far as I was concerned. That's all you can ask for, and so rarely do you get it.

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