Wednesday, October 14, 2015

I Crawl Through It by A.S. King

I Crawl Through It by A.S. King is a surreal young adult novel which satirizes education in the USA. Everyday is a new bomb threat with police dogs sniffing the halls. The principal is literally buried to her neck in paperwork. Teaching is geared only to standardized tests, and a naked man in the bushes is selling letter answers.

"When I was done with makeup exams, I broke all my number two pencils in half so they could feel how I feel every day." -Stanzi

Seeking to escape the chaos/boredom of school, Gustav is building an invisible helicopter to fly to a colony of geniuses. Stanzi, a biology prodigy, can only see the helicopter on Tuesdays (ha!), but she agrees to run away with her secret crush. Stanzi's alcoholic parents won't notice her absence. Her best friend, China, has turned herself inside out, wearing her guts like skin and expressing herself in poetry. Another friend tells only lies, making her hair grow. The unreliable narration alternates among the three girls.
"Your Number Two Pencil Has More Self-Esteem Than I Do." -China
Are you still following me? I Crawl Through It is not an easy book to summarize. This puzzle-cum-novel is built from paradoxes and metaphors with multiple meanings. In my reading, the invisible helicopter represented creative innovation. Only a genius can see what others cannot see or visit a place that few can find. However, King's isolated colony of geniuses is more of a dystopia than a utopia. As Stanzi asks, what's the point of discovering the cure for cancer if you can't save other lives?
"There is no such thing as individuality when one is part of a collective of people who think they're all individuals." 
I Crawl Through It is not for everyone; it was designed for kids who find answers that don't appear on standardized tests. The reader must suspend disbelief to take this book for a spin. Challenging novels like this one aren't usually written for teens, but it's wonderful to find an author who is willing to trust the intelligence and the imagination of younger readers.

A.S King writes in the acknowledgement pages, "Some people don't know if my characters are crazy or if they are experiencing something magical. I think that's an accurate description of how I feel every day."

Reviewer's Disclaimer: Upon my request to Little Brown Books for Young Readers, I received a digital galley through netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This book was released last month and has garnered starred reviews from Publishers' Weekly, School Library Journal, The Horn Book and Booklist. My photo is from Simpson's Point, where I read most of this book. It's too chilly for swimming now but still my favorite destination to bike from home at high tide.

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@Barrie Summy


tina said...

It sounds a bit like a fantasy book but with real life things a bit exaggerated. Scary tho.

Barrie said...

It sounds like a very ambitious book. Love that AS King has written a YA that deviates from the norm. Lately, I've been reading less YA (and more MG and adult). But I would like to read this book. Thanks for reviewing!

troutbirder said...

I always thought American History was best taught through good stories even literature rather than standardized anything. Still dystopian while often not "boring" only rarely won my approval for classroom use in the 20th century. I'm not sure if I was still teaching how I'd feel about a book like this. Unfortunately, it may express a view closer to "reality" that I care to admit the young adults here in a non diverse, small rural school are exposed to....

Unknown said...

I feel like I would walk away from this book uncertain of everything and with my eyes wide open (literally). It certainly sounds ambitious--and I bet there are teens who would find this marvelous.

Great review--you always find such interesting books!


Bee said...

I like this sort of story -- and I definitely like any book that satirizes "one size fits all" education! I do wonder how much of YA is now being written for (or at least read by) teenagers? The bit about the principal's paperwork? That is definitely aimed at adults. I've never read A.S. King and she is definitely an author that I need to check out. Wonderful picture, Sarah. It has a nicely surreal and upside-down quality to match your book.

Btw, I visited Blackwell's in Oxford today. "Everything, Everything" (at your recommendation) was one of the books that came home with me.

A Cuban In London said...

The sentence you quoted is so beautifully crafted. I know it's a short one but there's a lot of meaning in it. Thanks.

Greetings from London.

Jenn Jilks said...

I still have nightmares from my teaching career. I might miss this one!!!
(ツ) from Cottage Country Ontario , ON, Canada!

Beth Kephart said...

Beautifully done, Sarah! I love all the time you put into pondering stories.

Rose said...

"I broke all my number two pencils in half..." Ha, what a great line! I understand the sadness underlying this comment in the character, but it's also a fitting description of what is wrong with education today. I'm not sure I would enjoy this book, but it certainly sounds like one that could provoke some meaningful discussion.

Sarah Laurence said...

Tina & Jennifer, the scary part was that the narrative wasn’t that far from reality, but the book itself wasn’t scary to read.

Barrie, I’m curious to hear your reaction of this book. Thanks for hosting the book review club!

Troutbirder, this book is more serious/literary than a typical dystopian adventure book. It would lead to an interesting classroom discussion, but a teacher would need to feel comfortable discussing sexual content. Nothing is graphic but inferred.

Alyssa, thanks!

Bee, King’s novels feature well developed adults as well as teens so her work would appeal to older readers. One of the minor narrators is an adult. I chose a surreal/reflective photo to illustrate this review; thanks for noticing! I’m envious of you going to Blackwell’s and pleased that at least my recommendation went with you. I’m looking forward to your reviews of both books.

ACIL, yes, this author writes beautifully.

Beth, thanks for the recommendation.

Rose, this author is really good at mining a situation for both pathos and humor.

Liviania said...

This one is a hard one to summarize, especially since it is so open to the reader's interpretation! You picked some great lines to quote.

Sarah Laurence said...

Liviania, thanks! I enjoyed your review of this book too.

thecuecard said...

It sounds like a different kind of book, but seems funny and innovative.

Sarah Laurence said...

cue, innovative indeed!