Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King is a bizarre book. It is in fact one of those books I normally don't finish. Or if I do I'm annoyed that I did. Not this time. Nope. Despite the highly bizarre and inexplicable weirdness that sometimes doesn't make any sense I ate it up as if it were made of dark chocolate with flecks of hot peppers inside. I can't say I was completely satisfied at the end but the experience was delightfully strange.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
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 daily 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?
The line between dreams and reality in this book is incredibly vague. Lucky can fall asleep anywhere, particularly if he is stressed, and go into the dream world in which he experiences all kind of adventures with is POW MIA grandfather in Vietnam. He awakes and is always left with some memento from the dream. He has a box under his bed full of them. Then there are the ants. They show up when Lucky is having his face smashed into concrete by Nader at the pool. They then follow him everywhere. The Greek chorus in the play of Lucky's life. They comment. They pantomime. They amuse. So bizarre. This sort of surrealism is usually too much for me. What made the difference this time?
And his mom, Ginny, Jodie, Charlotte, his dad, even his uncle. This book has characters. Oh does it ever.
Through these characters there are many themes being explored. Suicide, bullying, exploitation, the idea of a dysfunctional family, mental illness, the crimes of war, the crimes of high school. The characters are what make the book though and every single theme is funneled through their lives in such a way that they are never what the book about. The book is about Lucky. One teenage boy who is trying to survive high school long enough to experience his first kiss. A boy who has been pushed to the edge but is learning how to pull himself back from it. To keep his balance. He won my heart in every way. Even with all the strange.