I started reading A.S. King only recently and I’m kicking myself for not having read her sooner. Perhaps, though, you read books when you need to read them. I was just finishing teaching The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, which explores the emotional burdens Vietnam veterans carried with them. Everybody Sees the Ants also explored the impact of the Vietnam war on people, but instead of focusing on the soldiers, it examines the impact the war had on the families–for example, the families of the POW/MIA soldiers.
Lucky Linderman’s grandfather never came back from Vietnam, and his grandmother and his parents struggle with grief and loss. In his dreams, Lucky visits his grandfather and helps him plan his escape. These dreams allow him an escape from his regular life, which involves a bully who won’t stop harassing him and other students, and adults who can’t seem to understand what it means to be a teenager: “It is as if they’d never known one single teenager in their whole lives.” Lucky and his mother go out to Arizona to visit her brother, Dave, and Dave gives Lucky some advice: “escaping assholes is about as easy as escaping oxygen.” This is similar to the advice his grandmother offers: “the world is full of assholes. What are you doing to make sure you’re not one of them?”
I enjoyed the writing style of this book and also the playful nature of the ants…at first I was a little incredulous, but I learned to look forward to the descriptions of what the ants were doing. (I don’t want to offer any spoilers, just be forewarned you need to suspend your disbelief a little bit as you read.) The parallels of being a POW and being bullied make sense, and King offers us a strong character to root for in this book. She begins part 3 with a quote from Robert F. Kennedy: “Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.” Lucky begins to see the world a little differently after he goes to Arizona, where he begins to appreciate his father and is exposed to other forms of bullying. I particularly liked how King included the Vagina Monologues in the text as another example of oppression/bullying. The construction of this novel seems flawless, and I immediately went out and bought two copies for my classroom bookshelf. Go. Get a copy, you won’t be sorry.