A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A.S. King's Dig won the 2020 Michael J. Printz Award. It's a surreal, heartbreaking, and sometimes downright weird story of three generations of a Pennsylvania family drowning in secrets, racism, abuse, poverty, and mental instability. The story unfolds from multiple viewpoints: five teenage cousins; their wealthy grandparents, who have cut off their adult children and grandchildren; and two brothers who know the answer to a long-ago family mystery. The grandchildren, some with names that reflect the way others perceive them -- The Freak, Can I Help You?, and The Shoveler -- are all caught in a terrible dark web of family dysfunction. There's a constant stream of profanity ("f--k," "motherf----r," "s--t," "d--k," "bitch," "a--hole," "p---y," and "Jesus"), violence that springs from bigotry and deep feelings of alienation, and some sexual content (a girl holds a boy's penis, and one character masturbates and makes male and female genitalia out of balloons). Readers who are fans of King's work should be able to dive right in, but first-time readers may have a difficult time navigating the chaotic storyline.
What's the story?
The title of the novel, DIG, references the origin of the Hemmings family fortune: potato farming. Marla and Gottfried Hemmings took the profits from that farm and invested in real estate, and now they are millionaires. Wanting their children "to thrive," they've cut off all contact with them, and the consequences of that decision have had an impact on both their adult children and, now, their grandchildren. The Shoveler, fearing that the father he's never met might suddenly appear and do him terrible harm, carries a shovel with him everywhere. The Freak seems to be constantly traveling through time and space -- to Berlin, a tropical beach, Russia, a college lecture hall. Can I Help You? works the drive-through window at Arby's, where she also sells pot to very special customers. Her parents are unrepentant homophobes and racists and furious she's dating a biracial boy. Loretta spends her free time tending her flea circus (honest) and trying to give herself at least four orgasms every day. Malcolm is the steadiest of the cousins, despite losing his mother and now his father, who's suffering from terminal cancer. Through chance, the cousins begin to meet, and as their lives and those of their grandparents start to intertwine, there's a mystery solved and a shocking twist.
Is it any good?
This novel offers a surreal, often chaotic, and haunting look at the terrible price teens pay when the adults in their lives are drowning in bigotry, alcohol, abusive behavior, and secrets. Dig is not an easy read. It's rather like a literary puzzle that readers must try to piece together by sorting out what's real and what's imagined and how the characters will ultimately relate to one another. As the story unfolds and the puzzle comes together, readers may think they've solved it, only to find unexpected revelations.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about all the family dysfunction in Dig. Is it realistic or over the top? How does the issue of money affect the drama that unfolds?
Do you know any teens who've created unusual personas (like The Shoveler) for themselves? How do other students react to them?
Which character (or characters) do you think will be able to turn their lives around, and who do you think might have a tragic end?
- Author: A.S. King
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Topics: Book Characters, Friendship, High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: March 26, 2019
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 416
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: ALA Best and Notable Books
- Last updated: February 10, 2020
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