Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King (2011)
During the latest Nader episode Lucky's face became intimately acquainted with the cement ground at the public pool, leaving a scab shaped like the state of Ohio. As Lucky lay there trying to think of other things, he suddenly saw ants dancing around and cheering him on, ants who continued to show up every now and then afterwards, having little parties and dispensing advice. The sort of surreal occurrence barely phases Lucky, who regularly has dreams in which he rescues his MIA grandfather in Vietnam, and when he wakes up he's left with some little piece of physical evidence from the dream.
After this latest bullying episode, Lucky's mom becomes fed up with his dad's inaction and takes Lucky with her to her brother's house in Arizona. Aunt Jodi is a little strange, but Uncle Dave seems great, and Lucky enjoys hanging out with him, lifting weights in the garage. It's a relief to be away all the troubles at home, and he even meets an interesting girl. But Lucky knows his problems will still be waiting for him when he gets back home.
That is a very long summary, but there's a lot going on here! The main theme is about bullying and the lack of response by the adults, but there are a lot of other issues and, man, do these characters know how to avoid dealing with their problems! As Lucky gets to know more about Jodi and Dave, he starts to think his parents are pretty functional after all. Though he still wishes his parents would at least TALK about his missing grandfather, and the fact that his grandmother's life was so consumed in the POW/MIA movement, which has clearly affected his father. He also wishes the authorities weren't so preoccupied with why he conducted the suicide survey that they overlooked some of the upsetting responses he received.
There was so much to like about this novel. Lucky is such a good person, and has a healthy sense of humor, and I was so happy at the sort of young man he was becoming throughout the novel. His quiet observation of other people and their relationships was very endearing, as was his consideration for others. Plus he's a damn good cook. This story was so well told that I didn't even mind the tiny elements of magical realism; in fact, they were part of its charm.
That's two hits in a row by A.S. King, who also wrote the fabulous Please Ignore Vera Dietz and is proving herself a very strong new voice in young adult literature. I really look forward to seeing what she has for us next.