Tuesday, December 22, 2015

I Crawl Through It

I Crawl Through It
A.S. King
Little Brown, 2015  319 pgs.
Grades 9-Up
Acclaimed teen author, A.S. King, offers her most ambitious novel to date as she stretches conventional boundaries and forces the reader to think in different ways. This new novel traces the lives of four troubled and unique teenage friends. Stanzi (we never learn this character's real name) is living with a personality split since a family tragedy several years ago. She has escaped into biology, specifically dissecting frogs endlessly, and physically finds it impossible to remove her lab coat. Her best friend, China, has been date raped and now her body has turned inside out, wearing a different part of her digestive system on the outside. Their friend, Lansdale, lives in a house with a rotating cast of young step-mothers and her hair grows whenever she lies. Finally, we meet Gustav, who is building an invisible helicopter. The four young people live in a small town and attend high school amidst the daily interruptions of evacuations and bomb threats. Who is calling in the threats? All four teens are suspects. Meanwhile they all interact with the strange naked man who lives in the bushes, telling truths and dispersing painted letters. Finally, Gustav's helicopter is completed and he and Stanzi escape for an adventure to a mythical place, where they meet more interesting characters. Eventually, all four friends find themselves on the road to healing, as life returns to normalcy and the bomb threats cease. 

I am a big fan of A.S. King. I read her first book, Dust of 100 Dogs almost by accident and thought it was one of the most weird and wonderful books I have ever read. Since then, I've gone on to read other books by her and have been awed by her writing style and creative plots. This is her most unconventional novel in a long line of unconventional novels. It describes itself as "surrealistic" and this is true. In fact, it is hard to discern what is plot fact and what is surrealistic metaphor. There is a plot and it moves along. I was never bored by this book, although it did not always make sense to me. The writing style is similar to that of Francesca Lia Block's Weetsie Bat series and it remains poetic and beautifully penned throughout. Readers will either "get it" and love it--or not. I think this book will confuse and make many teen readers uncomfortable. Adult readers, especially intellectual ones, will potentially appreciate it more. After over twenty years reading books for young people professionally, I tend to read like a young person. I did not have the patience for this book and will admit that I did not fully understand it. That said, I will acknowledge that it is beautifully written and will be beloved by those deeper and more thoughtful readers than myself. Today's social climate is reflected in the emphasis on standardized testing in education and threatened violence in the schools, making the story relevant and contemporary. I Crawl Through It will most certainly win awards this year and has risen the bar, yet again, on what constitutes teen fiction.

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