book thoughts: Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King (2011)

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Lucky Linderman is not happy — his father is a turtle, his mother is a squid, and he has been bullied by the same kid since he was 7 years old.

Okay, his father isn’t actually a turtle, but he doesn’t do much, that Lucky can see, to make his life any better.  When Lucky tells him about the bully, Nader McMillan, his father’s usual suggestion is to ignore the kid.  Now, 9 years later, Lucky is in high school and fears for his safety every time he walks the halls of his high school.

His mother isn’t actually a squid either, but to escape her frustrations with her husband and her own worries about her son, she takes Lucky with her to the pool every day of the summer and swims laps in the pool for hours on end.

There’s a lot more to Lucky’s story, more than I want to tell you here, because it’s better to let it all slowly unfold.  Because his tale is not exactly linear (we bounce between his childhood, his current summer vacation, and spaces in-between) it’s hard to say anything without spoiling this beauitful story.

And it is beautiful.  And sad. Lucky’s voice is honest and true.  He reveals his life to the reader bit by bit, as he deems necessary.  Is he teetering on the edge of sanity?  Is he just finding a way to deal with reality through a bit of strangeness?  Why are adults so oblivious to the plight of teenagers?

There was an article a few months ago, I wish I could find the link, but someone was blogging about “Glee” and it’s issues as a show, taking characters from heroes to victims in a matter of seasons.  In it, the author lamented his issues with the “It Gets Better” campaign, pointing out that it’s heart was in the right place, but the last thing you want to hear when you’re a teenager is that “It Get’s Better” which, let’s face it, is pretty much like saying “just suck it up” or “get over it”.  This is the kind of message Lucky’s father sends to him about the bully – instead of actively helping his son, his tells Lucky to ignore the bully, to just wait until he’s done with high school.  Lucky is only a freshman – he is at his limit NOW and the thought of waiting 3 more years to finally have peace…it’s not an appealing one.  And it makes him feel lost and alone in a way that only a teenager can.

It also reminded me of an essay that Mo Willems wrote for a short story collection about being bullied where he broke it down for teens — there are bullies, there will always be bullies, and they will grow up and have children and teach them to be bullies and defend their right to bully.  It sucks but it’s true, just make sure you’re not one of them.  And, once you’ve identified them, get them out of your life and move on.  A bully is not your friend.

This is a book for anyone who was ever bullied or knew someone who was bullied.  It’s a story for everyone who feels their family is so “different” they will never be happy.  And it’s a story for the adults that managed to survive high school and understand that everyone’s family is “different” in their own way, for better or for worse, and that life is about processing those differences.  And for everyone who learned, one way or another, that it does get better, but you have to take an active role in your survival to make the change.

Just read it.

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