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? Michael L. Printz Honor recipient A.S. King's smart, funny and boldly original writing shines in this powerful novel about learning to cope with the shrapnel life throws at you and taking a stand against it.
Everybody Sees the Ants
This is a not an easy book to describe because it juggles three themes: bullying, life in a dysfunctional family, and an aftereffect of the Vietnam War. Lucky Linderman is a high school freshman who has learned to cope with serial bullying and seriously odd and deficient parents in a strange way—by escaping into the world of his grandfather, a soldier missing in action (MIA) in Laos during the war. The escape is a surreal dream world Lucky regularly visits. He is always on the same mission: to rescue his grandfather from a jungle prison camp. The situation is always different, jungle-gritty, and enlightening in some way for Lucky, who in his dream world has the strength and skills he doesn’t possess in the real world. Through his repeated visits Lucky gets to know this dream version of his grandfather rather well. As he does, the reader gradually comes to learn more and more about Lucky’s less-than-ideal life and how he came to be the way he is.
Bullying: Nader McMillan is a classic bully, the whole school afraid to piss him off. The fact that he has it out for Lucky, for no reason so far as I could tell, means that Lucky cannot really make friends, since no one wants Nader's attention. In fact, others pick on Lucky to earn Nader's approval. Undoubtedly the most intense scene in the book is a memory of what Nader does to snitches. Let's just say that this cannot be explained away with "boys will be boys." Perhaps even more terrifying is that no one will do anything to stop this. Just imagine what an awful person Nader will grow into if he learns that he has the right to do anything he wishes.
Family: Just because your parents give you everything you need physically and do not beat you does not mean that the relationship is healthy. Lucky's parents are somewhat neglectful, trying to recover from their own past damage. They love their sun, but do so completely ineffectually. Much as teens may pull away, parents need to be there for them. King also considers the fact that just because someone is a little crazy does not make them unlovable; nor does the fact that someone acts really cool mean that they're actually a good person. Basically, everything is complicated when it comes to family.
The Vietnam War: This may actually be my favorite aspect of the book. It is rife with statistics on and references to the Vietnam War, which is one of my favorite historical periods to study. Lucky's grandmother, his dad and he himself are all really into the POW/MIA movement, since Lucky's grandfather was one of the men never to return. This element to warfare, all of the families who never know if their father/husband/son is still alive or dead, is one not focused on very often, as authors tend to focus on the more exciting aspects, rather than the effect the war has years down the line.
The Dreams & the Ants: Honestly, the ants were weird. They, along with the dreams of his grandfather, are really strange. The ants are a metaphor for victimization and standing up for oneself, which I get, but I do not really understand why. The dreams are totally magical realism, because Lucky brings something tangible back from every dream.. I love some well done magical realism.
Everybody Sees the Ants is seriously hard-hitting and entertaining. Lucky makes a great main character, growing in confidence and learning to be himself. Plus, he reads Catch-22, which automatically makes him totally cool. If you like dark humor and truly realistic fiction, give Everybody Sees the Ants a read.