I always appreciate books that contain intelligent discussion about depression. So often that conversation is trite, trivial and about how you can fix your life if you just do a, b, and c. Then it's always the goth or the emo kid who's depressed, never the smart or pretty people. Depression doesn't happen to them!
Except that it can happen to anyone.
Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King doesn't talk down to people struggling with depression or bullying. It takes more of a conversational tone. This book is an "issue" book without being an "issue" book in the traditional sense. It deals with bullying, depression and suicidal thoughts. But it does it in a cool, creative way that I've come to expect from A.S. King.
CHARLOTTE: Nah. I'm fine. Everyone thinks about this shit, don't they?
GRANDDAD: I have.ME: Me too.
CHARLOTTE: But I'd never do it.
I've never read a passage about depression that felt more true. Because yes I've felt that too and I've said that. Last year when my grandfather died and my longterm boyfriend proved he wasn't up to snuff, I was right their with those characters feeling like life sucked. Feeling like I wasn't sure if it's worth it. (I should note that I was really close to my Papaw. And spoiler alert: It is worth it, eventually).
This book isn't told in a straight linear narrative. It's told from the perspective of what happened at school, then his summer vacation in Arizona, then the dreams where he visits his missing grandfather in a Vietnam POW camp. Switching between the perspectives keeps the dark subject matter from weighing down the novel but also shows Lucky's internalization of his problems. In his dreams is where he works through the bullying, the depression and his loneliness. His MIA grandfather is his best friend and the person he can talk to about everything.
The adults in this novel are just as disastrous at the teens. At times I just want to yell at them, but it adds to the realism of the story. Often adults just don't get bullying. (Read this article about how even the terminology we use is often wrong). This novel shows how the inaction of adults allows bullies to reign. Sometimes parents even create the bullying situation by justifying their kids actions or being bullies themselves. This novel is very aware that bullying doesn't just die with high school but is something adults deal with it too.
If you would've told me that I'd like a book about bullying this much I wouldn't have believed you. But AS King has a very stylish, fun and honest way of tackling the difficult subjects. "Issue" books don't have to be straightforward because life is not straightforward. This is a book that anyone can read about bullying without feeling like it's a trite treatise on the evils of high school. I think it's an important and relevant subject matter that's handled in the way that's somehow quirky and fun even while talking about serious subjects like depression, bullying and suicide. Don't believe me? Then read the book for yourself.