Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Everybody Sees the Ants, A. S. King

Sunrise was at 5:48, sunset will be at 8:43. It's cloudy, a little breezy, but supposed to be in the high 70s again. A robin just hit the window and scared the crap out of me and my cat. Gidget's under the table, looking up at the window, waiting to see if it's safe to get back to her napping place. Lots of robins in the fountain this morning, standing in the bowl, shrugging their wings up around their necks, flicking water away; they look like boxers getting ready to jab.

So, I drove to work yesterday, listening to Mumford and Sons the whole way (I can get through the first 7 songs on my ride), looking forward to reading both Ashes, Ashes and Mostly True Story of Jack when Judy, our children's book buyer, brought me Everybody Sees the Ants, by A. S. King, and tells me that it's a book we all need to read and then tell everyone else about it. I opened it and that was the book for now.

There are a lot of books about bullying in the world today but Lucky's story is different. Maybe not so different in the truth about bullies and the bullied, but the way it's told is different. And so very well told.

Lucky has been bullied by a single classmate for eight years, since he was seven. It started when Nader Macmillan peed on his leg in a restaurant restroom and then told the manager that Lucky peed all over the place on purpose. No one would stand up for him, take his side or listen to the truth, because Nader's dad, is a powerful, nasty, attorney, and no one wanted to accuse his son of being a dick. That was the beginning of a constant round of hurt, terror, worry with no end in sight.

Then Lucky invents a questionnaire for a sociology class asking if other students thought about suicide and how would they do it. He gets pulled into the counselor's office and when he tells them that it had just been a question he and his friends were tossing around, his friends get questioned, too. One of those people is Nader Macmillan, and Nader's father gets involved. As a result, the bullying of Lucky takes on a whole new weight.

Nader catches him at the pool one day and rubs his cheek raw on the cement, almost to the bone, and no one does anything about it. Not his father, who has absolutely no idea what to do about this, not the manager of the pool, who is scared of Nader and his family, no one stands up for Lucky until his mother says enough is enough and leaves with Lucky for Arizona to live with her brother.

This starts Lucky's new life as Lucky, not Nader's punching back, not the boy who doesn't respect his dad, but a good person who knows pain and hurt and how to listen and how to tell that a person is a bully even if that person is an adult. This is Lucky's time to find out what kind of a person he wants to grow up to be.

Well-written, compelling, great characters, good subject matter. This is a complex story, too. Lucky's father has issues about his MIA POW father (someone he's never met), but, in Lucky's dreams, Lucky is trying to save his grandfather and bring him home from Vietnam. He uses these dreams to figure out how to get rid of Nader in ever increasingly violent ways. There is a girl, a beautiful, smart, girl with bullies in her life, too. It's as if the adults in Lucky's life are still trying to grow up. It's like growing up and becoming an adult will always going to be nothing but practice and guts- it's never done and you hope you do it right and learn something along the way.

Parents, teachers, counselors, kids, this is a good book for everyone. Kids need to know that adults can be bullies, that bullying doesn't always mean physical pain, adults need to remember that just because they're older, they aren't always right or good. It's really easy to become a bully or to be bullied, it's hard to stand up for yourself or for someone else. Ages 14 and up.

(P. S. The ants as Greek chorus are brilliant.)

(Little Brown. $17.99. Available October, 2011.)

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