I was lucky enough to hear A.S. King speak when she visited our Library in August 2015. Eventually, after much fascinating talk, one of the moderators got around to asking her about her newest book, I Crawl Through It. "What's it about?" We all laughed, as we had earlier established how difficult it can be to neatly summarize a King novel. But then King's expression turned serious and she said, "It's about the way teens have to deal, daily, with both intruder drills and standardized tests - and how messed up that is." I had already been planning on reading King's new book, but now I knew I had to read it now.
A.S. King's particular brand of magical realism edges far more into surrealist territory with this slim novel. If you're not used to surrealist literature - and we just don't have that much modern surreal literature to consume - you're going to need to let go of some expectations. Like, the expectation of understanding it all. Let me tell you right off the bat, don't bother with questions like, "Is China REALLY a walking digestive system?" And "yeah but what is Gustav sitting on when he's working inside the imaginary helicopter...is he just hanging in midair?" Those are not the important questions, but it can be tempting to get tripped up on them. Instead, let the strange metaphors King uses work on you as you read, and think about the important questions. Like how we survive trauma, and then keep on surviving, day to day, as the memory of the trauma fades but its effects linger. How do we connect with people in a world packed full of things that are violent, senseless, or both? And how do we expect teens to deal with all of that when adults haven't figured it out, either?
King's book doesn't (can't) answer those questions. But works of literature as profound as I Crawl Through It are nonetheless part of the solution. They force us to think about the world in which we live and the people we share it with. They force us to reflect on our own stories as we engage in these characters' lives. And they allow us to experience trauma, hope and connection through one channel still left to us in this messed up world - books.