Lucky Linderman isn’t all that lucky. He has been harassed for years by school bully Nader. His parents aren’t getting along due to his dad being more interested in running a restaurant than spending time with Lucky and his mother. Lucky is even in trouble at school for a homework assignment. For a freshman social studies survey assignment Lucky asked his classmates “If you were going to commit suicide, what method would you choose?” The survey landed Lucky in counseling sessions.
The follow-up to her Printz Honor Book, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, A.S. King’s Everybody Sees the Ants has a lot going on in its 280 pages. Fairly early on in the book, Lucky’s mom becomes so frustrated with his dad that she decides to take Lucky along on a visit to his Aunt Jodi and Uncle Dave in Arizona. Throughout the book Lucky has vivid dreams of trying to rescue his grandfather, a Viet Nam POW who was never found, from a prison camp in Laos. On her death bed, his Granny Janice told him, “You have to find him and bring him back.” He also sees, or perhaps has hallucinations of, magical ants that serve as a sort of Greek chorus on his triumphs and failures over the course of the book. At times Everybody Sees the Ants feels like several books scrambled together, but almost everything works. The once exception is the ants. The fantastic element of ants holding up signs to cheer Lucky on or telling him that his Aunt Jodi is crazy seems out of place. It also makes Lucky seem a little crazy at times. This was particularly problematic when Lucky encounters Ginny, a rebellious model a few years older than him, during his stay in Arizona. He first sees her sneaking around like a ninja, and her eccentric behavior and seemingly random interest in Lucky made me wonder if he wasn’t imagining her along with the ants.
While I wish King would have exterminated the ants, Everybody See the Ants is still a very strong book. (And King would have also had to come up with a new title.) It tackles problems such as the difficulty people have living in the present, the challenges involved in staying true to oneself, and the way some families’ priorities are skewed. A.S. King shows again that she is one of the best young adult authors to emerge in the last few years.