The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

March 31, 2014

Cari Rerat: Story captures brilliantly what it's like to get bullied

JOPLIN, Mo. — In "Everybody Sees the Ants," by A. S. King, Lucky's life at school is almost unbearable. Not only did he get into see-the-guidance-counselor-regularly kind of trouble for a social studies assignment, he also has to endure Nader McMillan.

Nader is your typical bully Ñ he's big, he's mean, he's got a knack for torture, and with his charm and lawyer father, he is beyond reproach from any adult in town.

Lucky's life at home is its own kind of misery. With a father who tries to avoid just about everything to do with home and a mother who would much rather spend her time swimming lap after lap in the pool, Lucky is basically on his own.

His only escape from the brutality of school and the numbness of home are vivid dreams Lucky has of rescuing his grandfather who was taken as a prisoner of war during Vietnam. Then one day, Nader's torture goes far enough that Lucky's mom packs them both up and flies them to Uncle Dave's and Aunt Jodi's house in Arizona (the only relatives with a pool).

While in Arizona, Lucky's life changes completely. Now he has to be brave enough to let those changes follow him back home.

I read "Everybody Sees the Ants" in one sitting. I laughed. I cried. I devoured this book.

King has written an incredibly important book about what it's like to be bullied, to have parents who are physically there but not fully present and when your family history obsessively haunts your present life.

Lucky is a real character filled with self-doubt and vulnerability but also strength and openness. Even through the filter of his narration, Lucky's peers and the adults in his life are fully and honestly described. The tortures Lucky endures at the hands of Nader and the ineffectual, bumbling "help" he receives from most of the adults in his life are painfully real.

"Everybody Sees the Ants" is one every library should own and all teens and adults should read.

"Chime" by Franny Billingsly is another book I recently devoured.

Briony Larkin is a witch and must be hanged. Or so she says. She knows her witchiness has caused irrevocable harm to the members of her family, and she hates herself.

She has an easy time hating herself until Eldric comes to stay. Eldric, with his fidgety ways, seems to make Briony forget to hate herself. Which is dangerous.

The Boggy Mun (the spirit of the Swamp) has given the town's children the Swamp Cough, and it's up to Briony to save everyone, even if it means being found out and hanged as the witch she knows she is.

"Chime" swept me away. I started with the audiobook and soon realized I was making excuses to sit in my car alone in my driveway, so I checked out the bound book to keep the neighbors from talking too much.

The mystery of what Briony actually is (because we know from the get-go that she's not a witch) and why she hates herself is compelling as are the brief mysteries woven within this main plot.

The characters are drawn well enough to make your heart swell or cringe at their appearance. And the magic of the Swampsea with its Old Ones is tingly and wonderful.

Mesh all of those elements with writing that is fresh and strange and haunting, and you get something that is, simply put, beautiful.

If you're an audiobook listener, you can't get much better than the performance of Susan Duerden.

I may check it out again just to hear her narrate, but I'll probably wait until we're going on a road trip.

 

Cari Rerat is teen librarian for the Joplin Public Library.

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