Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Everybody Sees the Ants: Not-a-review

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?

New skin is a miracle—proof we can heal.

I've sat down to write about A.S. King's book, Everybody Sees the Ants, more times than you can imagine. The first time was when I read it this summer while I was in Paradise Valley. All I had to do for a few days was read, write, and stare out the window.

My workspace, McGyvered out of
a couple of pantry shelves and
a bookcase
The view.
But that was way before the book was released. It seemed like I was going to have all the time in the world to write something that might come close to doing it justice. 

But then the future happened a little more quickly and much more bumpily than I hoped.

I did find myself thinking about Everybody See the Ants frequently, like when I watched my son-in-law patiently teach my grandson how to protect himself in a fist fight. My grandson is in first grade. He's already been bullied so unmercifully that he's had to change schools. The school administration at his previous school took the view that "boy will be boys" and children need to sort things out for themselves. In other words, the institutional culture said that everything was normal and operating smoothly. 

I found myself thinking about Everybody Sees the Ants  again when my youngest child became so depressed that he started talking about ways to hurt himself—to get away from the world. He's ten. 

Honestly, as far as anyone can tell, he isn't the target of specific bullying. His school has a genuine commitment and an anti-bullying project in place. Unfortunately, none of that could protect him from realizing that he is different than the majority of the kids in his class. He isn't "normal" and there is considerable pressure to be "normal" even if it doesn't manifest in the body of a particular bully. So he thought he might be able to step in front of a car or fall from some high place. He thought that might help.

What's my point? Well, part of it is that Everybody Sees the Ants is a very true book. Although Lucky is bullied and that drives the plot, it offers a much wider perspective of the phenomenon. It knows that feminism is a fight against bullying, for one thing. It faces the dismal truth that society brutalizes individuals. And most cringe-inducing, it shows how fear makes accomplices of us—especially those of us who ought to be the protectors.

I remember looking at this sky and thinking about all the kids with all their scars, scabs, and bruises. 

"I wonder then, how many other kids could join in. 
Where are the Montanas and the Colorados? 
Where is Vermont?" 

And I want to tell them, "You deserve to be treated with respect." 
That's all. 
You don't have to be normal to earn it. 
You just deserve it. 

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