Everyone who finished the 2012 Best of the Best Reading Challenge by reading 25 titles from the 2012 Best of the Best list was invited to create a reader response to one of the books they read. This is one of those responses.
One of the first books I read for the YALSA challenge was A.S. King’s Everybody Sees The Ants. I had already read her previous novel, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, which was among my state’s young adult book award nominees, and I wanted to know if King could follow up with another great story.
What I got was similar to Vera Dietz but different. As before, King presents a teenager with a traumatic secret, trippy imaginary friends, and vast self-awareness â€“ Lucky clearly guards a secret, but its exact nature is hard to predict. Lucky reads his friends and family members according to their habits, but his own habit involves taking dream trips to his P.O.W. grandfather, who disappeared while serving in the Vietnam War. His internal monologue smacks of insight and wit, but he has no idea how to stand up for himself, whether against inattentive parents, clueless teachers, or a psychopathic bully. These traits made me root for Lucky and want to know his full story.
Lucky’s parents, “the squid” and “the turtle,” made me think about the nature of empathy. Lucky just wants someone who will listen to him and share some heavy issues, but his mother spends all day swimming and his father avoids home. Finding a personal comfort zone is fine, but there is an element of selfishness in constant escapism. Lucky’s semi-hallucinatory ant friends caused me to worry about his sanity.
I love that Lucky’s wallflower nature is as tragic as it is endearing. When Lucky rides in a car with some girls he just befriended, he sticks to the back seat and absorbs all of the chatter of the car. His head is full of wit and conversation; he just needs to feel some trust before opening up. Lucky comes out of his shell in a convincing crawl across the chapters, and King matches up his visions and dreams with his personal life in a way that echoes adolescence.
As a proven male, let me testify that King nailed certain issues in masculinity. Lucky has an uncle who tries to help him out with pep talks and exercise, but turns out to be a massive creep on the side. Teenage boys receive conflicting messages all the time about what it means to “become a man” and “treat women right,” but there are no role models in Lucky’s life to represent actions between “childish anxiety” and “dishonorable libido.” He would rather learn a new recipe and attend “The Vagina Monologues,” anyway.
The eventual reveal of Lucky’s secret happens nonchalantly, a style of admission that rang truer than any megaphone or dramatic speech could express. He wears his trauma in his thought processes, even when he doesn’t think about it. His personality, like that of many teens, encompasses more definitions than a single box can assign. He is an anthill of influences, and I could see myself in him.
— Thomas Maluck is a librarian at Richland County (SC) Public Library and is currently reading Sarny by Gary Paulsen
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