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Everybody Sees the Ants

(i)

 

Powerful, challenging tale of outsider fighting back.

What parents need to know

Educational value

The Vietnam War, the draft lottery, and the ongoing search for POWs/MIAs each play an integral part in the story, and the author makes a special effort to stay true the facts of each topic.

Positive messages

The primary theme of Everybody Sees the Ants concerns personal confidence and self-reliance. At the beginning of novel, Lucky is only able to concentrate on the perceived faults of himself and those around him. By the time he returns from his sojourn in Arizona, he is ready to face adversity on his own terms, even with the realization that he cannot fix every problem.

Positive role models

Nearly every character in Everybody Sees the Ants is dysfunctional in one way or another. Lucky's father and mother avoid him and each other by immersing themselves in work and exercise, respectively. His aunt appears to be addicted to pills, and his easy-going uncle harbors a disturbing secret. But Lucky, thanks to his experiences in Arizona and his strange dreams about his missing grandfather, is eventually able to overcome many of his fears and face reality with courage and conviction.

Violence

Lucky is physically and verbally abused by Nader, the high school bully. The novel opens with a physical assault on Lucky, and an earlier, nastier incident is recalled in flashback. Later, one of Lucky's friends is punched in the eye by her mother. Lucky also dreams of visiting his missing grandfather in the jungles of Vietnam, and these visions are filled with fighting, injury, and death. Lucky's grandfather often appears with limbs missing. The absurdity of the dreams keeps the imagery from becoming overwhelming, and there are few depictions of actual bloodshed.

Sex

Sex is discussed often in the novel, although there are no scenes of physical intimacy, beyond one passionate kiss between Lucky and his dream girl, Ginny. Lucky complains of inconvenient "boners" in a couple of scenes when he is in sexually charged situations. Ginny has an older boyfriend, and she tells Lucky directly that she is not a virgin. Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues plays a significant role in the plot, and words like "vagina" and "orgasm" are used to describe its topics.

Language

Some readers may be uncomfortable with the frequency of swearing the novel. Swear words are employed mostly in scenes charged with emotion, as when Lucky is bullied or during his dreams about the Vietnam War, but they are sometimes used casually. Examples include "s--t," "bulls--t," "bats--t," "f--k," and "a--hole," plus "hell," "damn," and uses of "God" and "Jesus" as an expletive.

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Lucky's aunt is addicted to prescription medication. Ginny, Lucky's new friend in Arizona, smokes cigarettes in a few scenes.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Everybody Seems the Ants possesses strong language, frank discussions of sex, and complex thematic content. It touches upon hot-button issues such as bullying, teen suicide, adultery, and addiction. The main character is physically and verbally abused by the high school bully, and one of his friends is punched in the eye by her mother. There are also violent dream images from the Vietnam War. However, the novel is a moving and well-constructed tale of learning to stand up for oneself, told with insight and humor. It will captivate young readers mature enough to grapple with the issues it raises.

What's the story?

In EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS, Lucky Linderman's teachers think he might be suicidal, his parents are focused on their own problems, and the high school bully has it in for him. After he is physically assaulted at the local swimming pool, Lucky's mother takes him to stay in Arizona with her brother and sister-in-law. But even there, there's no escape there, as Lucky becomes friends with a troubled older girl and continues to dream of his long-lost grandfather stuck in the jungles of Vietnam.

Is it any good?

QUALITY

Written with emotional insight and cynical, surrealistic humor, this is a compelling and unique portrait of a victim who learns to stand up for himself and take control of his own destiny. There are no easy answers, though. Although she drops elements of fantasy into the narrative, A.S. King is careful to keep the psychological underpinnings of Lucky's hard-won transformation plausible -- and ultimately tremendously moving.

Everybody Sees the Ants made the 2102 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults list compiled by the the Young Adult Library Services Association (a division of the American Library Association).

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how to deal with violent bullying. Whose responsibility is it to deal with high school students who verbally abuse and physically assault their classmates? What role should parents play?

  • Why do you think the school administrators react the way they do when Lucky distributes a questionnaire about suicide. What are some effective methods of dealing with the problem of teen suicide?

  • What has it meant to Lucky's family to have his grandfather still missing in action from the Vietnam War? How do you think families of POWs and MIAs from any war deal with their sadness or feelings of uncertainty?

  • During the Vietnam War, soliders were drafted through a lottery based on their birthdate. Today, we have an all-volunteer military. What are the advantages and disadvantages of these two systems?

Book details

Author:A.S. King
Genre:Coming of Age
Topics:Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date:October 11, 2011
Number of pages:288

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Adult Written byreubli August 12, 2014

Excellent, Thought Provoking, and Enjoyable

As a mom reading this, I had to keep reminding myself that the uncomfortable and challenging issues here aren't atypical. As a reader, though, I loved this book, as did my son. To call Lucky, the narrator, just a "bullied boy" misses how wonderful funny, smart, and observant he is. There is a good dose of dark humor in this book and some wonderful magic realism as Lucky repeatedly dreams of visiting his missing grandfather in Vietnam and wakes up with actual momentos from his visits. Disturbing at parts, but ultimately, an engaging book with a subtly, wonderful transformation at the end. So glad I read this and kudos to A.S. King for such a creative work.
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