Everybody Sees the Ants Review

I recently finished Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King and enjoyed it. Beware spoilers ahead…

It begins with Lucky Linderman, an ordinary high school student, except that he was being bullied. Badly bullied. Growing up, he rarely felt like he fit in, but did okay, skating under the radar, until he developed a questionnaire about suicide for a class project. Then it wasn’t only teachers who took notice, but the bullies as well. Lucky became the target of Nader McMillan. The abuse finally went too far at the town pool during the summer when McMillian crushes Lucky’s face into the asphalt.

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McMillan was not Lucky’s only problem. His mom was a squid. She swam obsessively to deal with her problems, but once out of the pool pretended everything was fine. His dad was a turtle, retreating from problems, rather than dealing with them. One of those problems had appeared in Lucky’s dreams. Lucky’s father was severely impacted by the fact that his dad, Lucky’s grandfather, never made it back from the Vietnam War. Every night throughout the novel, Lucky’s grandfather showed up in his dreams as he slept.

Lucky attempted to save his grandfather each night, and these escape attempts helped him cope. In his dangerous, wartime dreamscape, Lucky was strong and heroic. I constantly questioned, was it only a dream because Lucky woke up with more than memories. Items such as cigarettes and chewing gum were at his bedside when he awoke.

The protagonist had another secret as well. Ants. The insects helped him cope with life and provided advice. They were his cheering squad, his conscious, and the inner voice that allowed him to successfully navigate the harsh realities around him.

After Lucky’s last run-in with Nader at the pool, his mom rushed him away to her brother’s house and the rest of his summer was spent in Tempe, Arizona. There, Lucky bonded with his Uncle Dave, until he learned his uncle was not the stellar man he pretended to be, cheating on Aunt Jodi who turned to pills to cope. He also met an older, wiser teen, who he crushed over. She faced problems of her own, but her situation finally allowed Lucky put his life into perspective.

What I loved about the book was the reality and complexity of the characters, family dynamics, and the plot, which is why I spent so much time outlining it above. Often, I parents are made out to be cliché in books about teens, but all the characters were realistic and believable in Everybody Sees the Ants. I especially liked how Lucky’s mom was portrayed. As a reader (and mom), I could see how much she cared for her son even if she didn’t know what to do about the bullying. While all the characters displayed shortcomings, which only made them more realistic, the relationships came across as truthful and loving. At the end, there was hope for a better future.

It was interesting to view the world through Lucky’s eyes, giving the reader a truthful teen perspective. He disliked his overbearing, pill-popping aunt until he realizes she was coping with a cheating husband that everyone in town seems to know about. Once Lucky realizes his aunt’s life is as complicated as his own, he shows empathy for her situation and develops a connection with her.

The pacing was exceptional, and I enjoyed how the author took Lucky away from the bullying for a while so he could examine life and find himself. Ants was an intense story, but it could have been much darker. Removing Lucky from the bullying gave the reader much needed levity because even though the reader is removed from the day to day bullying, they learn about how truly heinous the situation had become for Lucky. When he shares the “real story” to his new friends it was emotional. I guessed the twist early on, but still felt the impact of it, when the truth was told.

The use of magical realism remained excellent throughout the story. It could be hard for a reader to suspend disbelief if the magical realism doesn’t ring true enough, but I had no problem believing the magical realism of Lucky’s dreams and loved how at the end, Lucky brought his grandfather’s wedding ring to his dad. Magical moment. Tears. Throughout the novel, the author also used the dreams as a way to help Lucky escape from reality. In the dreams, he was both physically fit and mentally strong. By the end of the story, Lucky realizes he brought those same qualities to his day to day life.

My critique of the story centered around the fact that it read a little dated. Even though it was written in 2014, there were no cell phones. This left me confused. In addition, the ants, a figment of Lucky’s imagination, also left me a little chagrined. While I was able to embrace the dreams as magical realism, the ants were a little harder to accept. At points, I wondered what their role was in the novel.  These were minor faults in a stellar read.

Five ants!!!! Over all, a great read and one I would highly recommend to students.

The Many Ways to See Me!

Check out one of my favorite places in CT on Better Connecticut. They did a story on The Storyteller’s Cottage, and I show up after 4 1/2 minutes. The Storyteller’s Cottage on Better Connecticut

TMOAM-Cover.jpgI”ll be talking one-one-one to writers at The Storyteller’s Cottage on Dec. 2. Get all the information at https://www.storytellerscottage.com/writing-workshops.  Have a question about the writing process, ask away! You can also find all my books for sale at The Storyteller’s Cottage.

Is it time to start shopping. Did someone you know enjoy Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine? How about Turtles All the Way Down? Get them a copy of Twelve Months of Awkward Moments. New 5-star review on Goodreads and Amazon states:

“If you are looking for an emotional read, then this book is for you. It really digs deep and touches on a subject that many people struggle with everyday. Mental Illness. Dani has several people in her family that suffer from mental illness and Dani herself struggles with anxiety and social awkwardness.

“She is always second guessing her decisions and conversations. She has to be perfect at her studies and she is extremely hard on herself. In this book you get to see Dani grow and learn to cope with her disabilities and fall in love. It is a tough road for her, but she is a strong girl.

“This book was a steady read. Not really a thriller, but does have some suspense and a bit of danger in it. This book will reach down into your soul. You can’t help but feel for the Dani and love her. There were times when I felt she was blind to some things going on in her life, but she figures it out.

“Overall this is a very good read. One that feels real, with real life problems. An emotional roller coaster, with wonderful characters. If you love books that deal with depression and different levels of mental illness, then this book may be up your ally. It is well written and enjoyable.

*ARC provided by Lisa Acerbo & Xpresso Book Tours”

Get your copy at Amazon

Firefly Magic: August Book Recommendation

514VgGJL+vLI cannot believe August has arrived and is moving so fast. Stay with me summer. While I might normally suggest a beach read with a hot cowboy on the cover, August’s recommended read changed the way I view marketing and sales.  You have to get a copy of this book if you are a writer. When I first started reading Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing by Lauren Sapala, I thought she had written it personally for me. Yes, I’m a writer. Yes, I’m sensitive. Inside the guide, she address so many of the fears and common misunderstandings that I had about marketing and sales. The writing style is conversational and easy to understand, and the exercises at the end of each chapter help get the reader involved and clarify where he/she stands in the process.

I had an “ah ha” moment while reading “Firefly Magic.” I was at a author reading and signing and there was a book blogger/reviewer moderating. Normally, I never would have gone up and spoke with the reviewer, but I did after reading about finding my tribe and like-minded people in Firefly Magic. He turned out to be extremely friendly and interesting.

Chapter 8 titled “Deep Listening” was one of my favorites. The author wrote, “…people opening their hearts and sharing what makes them blossom and what shuts them down, to me, is more valuable than gold.” As a writer, I get that, and the fact that I can use it to go beyond writing and learn more about marketing and sales is truly helpful.

This book is amazing. If you are a writer, you need a copy whether or not you struggle with marketing and sales. There is so much wisdom written in the pages.

Yale Writers’ Conference

35051489_10214250991006667_8043354584304844800_nI must admit it was a little odd and a lot exhausting to arrive home from one writers’ conference to attend another. Serendipity smiled and allowed me to attend both Rutgers Writing Conference and Yale, which ran from June 9-12. While structured differently, some of the same topics such as point of view and the same quotes from author’s came through. Great minds and all…

Logistics wise, Yale was harder to navigate. I commuted and the first morning had trouble finding the garage, which was behind a hockey rink. After driving around the block a few times, I asked a kind stranger and made it to my destination. My first walk to campus took 15 minutes. By day two, I figured out all the shortcuts and got it down to half that.  The food was excellent and every person, both on campus and with the writing workshop, was truly friendly and helpful. Beyond friendly.

We spent the first 1/2 hour discussing safety and I have to say even though I worked in New Haven the previous summer, I left the talk spooked. I didn’t attend the evening program on the first night after security informed me that if I walked away from campus into an unknown or less than savory neighborhood, I needed to turn around and come back to Yale. Campus was safe, but… It was very intimidating for someone who had to walk to the garage every day.

Rutgers set up a Facebook page prior to the event and I think Yale Writers’ Workshop would benefit from doing the same. People could ask questions, meet participant, and it would alleviate some of the anxiety.

Now for the good stuff. I attended the Young Adult workshop during session 2 so I don’t really know how session 1 connected. I’m sure it was amazing.

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Session 2 combined craft talks, author and editor presentations, and a critique of participant’s work. Participants in the YA breakout session critiqued my work and I also had a 1/2 hour one-on-one meeting with the instructor. While the craft lessons were excellent and useful, the critique became the highlight of the program.  The ideas that participants and the our instructor shared fulled my passion for writing and revising. I would recommend you have a manuscript or partial manuscript ready if you attend this sessions.

Shout out to Sarah Darer Littman, the best instructor ever!

Now if I could catch up on sleep and find more time in the day to write.

34984567_10214250990606657_9101460201906634752_nChoosing a conference depends on the time you have – 2 or 4 days – and how deep you want to go into your own work. Both Yale and Rutgers were amazing experiences.

 

 

 

Rutgers Writers’ Conference

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I’ve found my people.  My Tribe. Attending the Rutgers Writers’ conference on June 2-3, 2018 left me inspired and ambition. While I’m sure these attributes will wane with a few days slogging through the last of my curriculum at school or as I amass rejections letter, I’ll bask in the moment and provide you with some of the highlights of the conference.

Non-essential stuff first: Delicious food, a hotel within walking distance, and a well-organized, fun conference.

Now for the stuff you really want to know: Alice Hoffman and Chris Bohjalian were talented speakers with amazing content who delivered wonderful keynotes on Saturday and Sunday. I wanted to sit down with both of them to learn the trade. Even better than their wonderful, illuminating speeches, both seem like really nice people who would help if you were stranded on the side of the road.

 

 

Bohjalian spoke about how he was told by a creative writing teacher to become a “banker” and how he received 250 rejections when sending out his short stories after college.  If that doesn’t give you hope, I don’t know what will. By the way, he really talked about activism through writing.

All the workshops at the conference were valuable, but I have to point out two of my favorites.  “Writing True Romance” by Sarah Maclean kept me laughing as I learned things.  Maybe it was the content. We talked euphemistic “code words.” But still… this woman is brilliant. I can see why she has numerous best sellers. I only wish the workshop was longer.

As an English teacher, I thought I knew some stuff, but I learned so much from Chris Bohjalian’s “Hooking your Reader from the First Page – and Why It Matters.” The workshop discussed important aspects when starting a book such as picking a tense, a perspective, and writing an amazing first line. Bohjalian also volunteered to blurb any of the workshop participant’s books. He obviously didn’t know I have one coming out in August.  Should I email him?

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Let me know what you think…please.

PS I’m going to Yale’s Writer’s workshop this weekend so I’ll compare and contrast for you next blog post.