Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Everyone Sees the Ants by A.S. King

After hearing A.S. King speak at the Printz Reception at ALA I really wanted to read this book. I had picked it up in the exhibit hall earlier that day and immediately felt guilty that I have never having read Please Ignore Vera Dietz (I swear I put that book on hold and it just never arrives…) and so on my plane ride home I just dug right in.

King draws you into Lucky’s story immediately by starting her novel at a defining moment in Lucky’s life. The day when he created a school survey for a social studies project. The question that Lucky thought would translate pretty excellently into pie charts and graphs was, “If you were going to commit suicide, what method would you use?” Lucky is sure this is the way to an easy A.

As a reader, we are sure there is probably more to the story than what Lucky is telling us. Was it really a joke? Is Lucky depressed? And if so, exactly how depressed? The author manages to jump us around from reality to dreams and then back again before we actually understand exactly what Lucky was getting at with that question. Does it start when Lucky is seven and a kid his age pees on his feet in a restroom bathroom. Or did it start when his grandfather never came home leaving his father fatherless? That day he gets his feet peed on, Lucky gets some good advice, although he doesn’t heed it until much later. It is a funny paraphrasing of a famous Eleanor Roosevelt quote:

“He may have peed on your feet, but nobody can pee on your soul without your permission.”

I love that. I loved how the next line Lucky says, “I had no idea what this meant.”

To get back to the survey, Lucky’s survey obviously does not provide the easy A he was hoping for (and, come on, did he really think it would?). Instead, it turns a much needed spotlight on what is going on in Lucky’s life. It serves to kick start Lucky’s journey and his growth. A journey that kids need to read about because it will show them there is a way to get past shame and secrets. And that in all ways, to quote the author, “the simplest answer is to act.”

One of Lucky’s coping mechanisms had been to retreat to dreams where he attempts to rescue his MIA/POW grandfather from his Vietnamese captors. The back cover tells us these dreams are real. Like really and totally REAL. As a reader you’ll probably be questioning that assertion, wondering whether or not these dreams are more symbolic of Lucky’s mental state. I loved how the author played with the uncertainties and how she teased us with hints, with “souvenirs,” with an ending that was still a little ambiguous, but completely magical, and how she never explains how it all works. As an aside: the use of the ants throughout the book was much less effective for me, and frankly a little confusing, and they did get an explanation.

I really enjoyed this. And now I need to put Vera Dietz on hold. Again.


Book Source = ARC picked up at ALA


Madigan McGillicuddy said...

That's so crazy! To think we were at the same event, probably not even that far apart, since A.S. King came to my table, too.

She was a great speaker... she talked about killing chickens in Ireland.

Patti said...

That's too bad that we missed each other! Next year!