Even in a field that’s known for being both willing and eager to innovate and experiment, A.S. King is a standout on teen shelves.

Read the last Bookshelves of Doom on the Iron Seas series.

As she’s so unpredictable, critical and popular reaction to her writing has occasionally been mixed, but as of yet, my reaction has been anything but. Having read all her YA novels thus far, here’s my take: Her books are impossible to pigeonhole, similar to each other only in that they all defy genre conventions and that they’re uniformly excellent.

Everybody Sees the Ants is no exception.

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Lucky Linderman starts his story off with a bang, describing the uproar that occurs when he polls his classmates for his freshman year social studies survey with the following question: If you were going to commit suicide, what method would you choose?

He says:

Three hours after my meeting with the principal, I was sitting in the guidance office. Six days later, I was in the conference room with my parents, surrounded by the school district’s “experts” who watched my every move and scribbled notes about my behavior. In the end they recommended family therapy, suggested medications and further professional testing for disorders like depression, ADHD and Asperger’s syndrome. Professional testing! For asking a dumb question about how you’d off yourself if you were going to off yourself.

It’s as if they’d never known one single teenager in their whole lives. 

As his story goes on, though, it becomes clear that despite his protestations, all is not necessarily well in Luckyville. The bully who’s been picking on him for years is seriously upping his game. His parents’ marriage is on the rocks. He’s been spending more and more time sleeping, trying again and again to rescue his prisoner-of-war grandfather through his dreams. And when he’s awake, he’s started seeing a Greek chorus of ants* wherever he goes.

Like the vast majority of books that appeal to me, Everybody Sees the Ants has a little bit of everything: Comedy, tragedy, sarcasm, frank truth, despair, joy, fantasy, realism, romance, violence, friendship and family. In it, King creates—though his voice is so believable that it feels like a capture, not a creation—a vivid, rich chronicle of a life-altering time for one guy: the internal, the external and his effect on other people.

Read it however you want: Read it as a fantasy or as contemporary fiction, as “literary” fiction or genre**, as literal or metaphor, as a dark comedy or a flat-out tragedy.

However you decide to read it, just be sure that you do.


*Some readers are finding the ants problematic: I saw them as a visual manifestation of his own snarky self—and so I loved them—but you’ll have to make up your own mind.

**I’d argue, of course, that books can easily fit into both categories.

If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is impatiently waiting for the next winter share from her CSA.