Every night in his dreams, 15-year-old Lucky Linderman, the narrator of A.S. King’s novel Everybody Sees the Ants, visits the jungles of Vietnam in a desperate attempt to rescue his paternal grandfather, Harry, who never made it home from that conflict. In the real world, Lucky isn’t as lucky as his name. In the real world he’s been at the mercy of bully Nader McMillan since he was a little kid and Nader peed on his shoes during a horrible encounter in a restaurant washroom. Lucky wants to stand up to Nader, or at least stay out of his way, but that isn’t always possible and Nader is a huge jerk.
I used to hang out with Nader sometimes, too, because of Danny, even after all the crappy shit Nader did to me, but that was before my famous freshman year social studies suicide-questionnaire screwup, when he decided to make my life a living hell again.
Lucky is an only child. His father is a chef who doesn’t seem able to cope with anything even remotely confrontational, an unfortunate predicament when you have a teenager who is being picked on. Lucky’s mom is a little more proactive, but even she isn’t aware of everything going on in her son’s life. After a particularly nasty incident at the community pool, Mrs. Linderman and Lucky fly out to visit family in Arizona. This summer changes Lucky’s life for a variety of reasons.
Given the fantastic nature of Young Adult literature these days, I doubt most young readers would even bat an eye at Ms. King’s use of magical realism in Everybody Sees the Ants. It’s relatively obvious that Lucky’s dreamy ventures into the jungle to save Grandpa Harry are related to his own circumstances in the real world and his inability to defend himself against Nader. The dual narrative would work just fine like this, but magical realism operates on another level, one where magical elements are a natural part of an otherwise realistic world. So sometimes Lucky wakes up with leaves in his hair or clutching tokens of his latest visit to Laos. He also sees a lot of ants.
Ants appear on the concrete in front of me. Dancing ants. Smiling ants, Ants having a party. One tells me to hang on. Don’t worry, kid! he says, holding up a martini glass. It’ll be over in a minute.
Everybody Sees the Ants is a well-written, thoughtful and thought-provoking. Lucky is a character who will resonate with young adult readers who are climbing their own hill towards adulthood, but can’t quite see over the top.