“I try to keep my mouth shut because the ants are telling me: Stay safe, Lucky Linderman. Keep your mouth shut. But I talk anyway. ‘My mother is a squid, so we have to come here because Dave and Jodi have a pool, and my mother has to swim several hours a day or else, as a squid, she will die. My father has to stay in Pennsylvania because he is a turtle and can’t face anything other than boneless chicken breasts and organic vegetables.
My ninja is smiling at me. ‘You mom is a squid?’
‘And your dad is a turtle.’
‘What does that make you?’ she asks.
‘I don’t know yet.’
Lucky Linderman has masterminded a survival plan: Operation Don’t Smile Ever. It started after his survey project, in which he asked his classmates how they would kill themselves if they could. The thing is, everyone freaked out and now the school officials think he’s “troubled”. Combined with a dad who is always working at his restaurant, a mom who would rather swim than engage with humans, and Nader’s incessant bullying, Lucky’s not so sure he has much to smile about anyway. Oh, and the ants: he also sees an ever-present line of ants who like to comment on everything he does. As if a squid mom and turtle dad aren’t weird enough.
And that’s without the nightmares. See, his grandfather is a POW/MIA, a prisoner of war, missing in action. He went to Vietnam and even his body didn’t come back. Lucky’s grandma died while pleading for Lucky to find out what happened to him. But Lucky kind of knows already. See, he has dreams of Harry, his grandfather. They’re nightmares, really. They make traps together, talk about life, and even play Twister. And from each dream, Lucky carries a memento into real life: a banana sticker, a black headband. He feels like the dreams have a purpose; he will stop having them when they find his grandfather.
This is a very special book, one that doesn’t ignore the horrific realities of war and the agony of bullying, the feelings of worthlessness and despair that accompany adolescence, or the frustration inherent in being a member of a dysfunctional family unit. There is no minimization of trauma here, but King shows us a way around the challenges. Lucky’s story champions the subtle bravery of not throwing in the towel. It is a novel about what it means to grow up.
We are in the hands of a master storyteller, friends. We’ve all read books on bullying, on war, on dysfunctional families. But, I ask you, how many of those books had a line of ants, or dreams that might be real, or a Vagina Monologues ninja in them? And it’s not just these delightful creative elements that will grab you and suck you in, either. It is Lucky’s natural voice. While you’re reading this book, it’s like sitting inside his head. You’ll look around and say, “Hey! I know this place!” And after you finish this book, I hope you see the ants, too. I hope they’re cheering for you.
A. S. King won the Printz Honor for Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and this book has already gotten starred reviews and the attention of the American Library Association-all for good reason. I especially love that this book will appeal to reluctant readers (although I do so hate that phrase, because it assumes that people don’t want to read. No, they just haven’t found the right books yet, I say). So here, readers-who-might-be-having-a-bit-of-trouble-liking-reading: this one’s gonna blow your mind.
Author’s website: http://www.as-king.com
King, A. S. Everybody Sees the Ants. New York: Little, Brown, 2011. 279 pp. Ages 14 and up.
If you liked this book, I think you’ll love A. S. King’s earlier book, Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Also, you might want to check out Matthew Quick’s Sorta Like A Rock Star and Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going. They aren’t so much about war or bullying, but they have the same feeling to them.