An involving, if slightly uneven, follow-up to Printz Honor winner Please Ignore Vera Dietz (2010).
“If you were going to commit suicide, what method would you choose?” This smart-aleck survey question developed for a social-studies assignment sends the cruelly mis-named Lucky Linderman’s life straight into the sewer. Misunderstood by school administrators, tormented by the school’s bully-in-chief Nader McMillan, fretted over by his ineffective parents, Lucky launches the ultra-stoic “Operation Don’t Smile Ever” to protect himself, but privately he seethes with rage and sadness. In his dreams—the only place he can exercise any authority or skill—Lucky stages bold, elaborate rescue missions to bring his Vietnam-era POW/MIA grandfather home. After Nader assaults Lucky at the community pool, Lucky and his swimming-obsessed mom decamp to Arizona to visit relatives and recuperate. Readers will fall hard for Lucky’s aching, disgusted, hopeful and triumphant voice, but this otherwise deeply realistic story falters a bit whenever elements of magical realism intrude. The titular Greek chorus of ants, a shape-shifting facial scab, the items that accompany Lucky home from his dreams: None of them quite mesh with the story, instead forcing readers to question Lucky’s sanity when they should be completely on his side.
Readers who look beyond these problems will find a resonant, uplifting story about not just getting through, but powering through, the tough times. (Fiction. 15 & up)