Welcome to “From the Archives,” a series I meant to start a long time ago by reposting my reviews from the old version of this blog, but I was a bit too self-conscious about it. However, I am currently rereading this book because it has the right style and themes to heal me, and upon discovering my old review, I was rather moved by it. So without further ado…here’s High School Senior Olivia.
There are so many reviews whose writers didn’t “get” this book, so let me tell you: I got it. In context, I didn’t find it all that strange, and it just made sense to me. (I’m not sure what that says about me.) Some of the reasons why I connected are maybe too personal to divulge. Some of my delightful reading experience is just A.S. King’s knack for pulling me into a book so it is the only thing I can think about for a while…but this one I think I’m going to be thinking about for a long, long time.
A plot summary is somewhat pointless, but I’ll try: this is a surrealist YA novel about buried internal trauma and external pressures and how not facing these problems never work. Two academically gifted teens fly away in an invisible helicopter to try to escape. A victim of date rape swallows herself. A victim of physical abuse tells lies that make her hair grow longer to try to fit in when she is really being abused at home. Everyone is worried about what others think and how they fit in. And someone keeps making repeated bomb threats to the standardized test-addled school, but the students also feel like they’re ticking time bombs.
Of course, I Crawl Through It isn’t for everyone. It is certainly weird, but I also didn’t find it TOO weird, although I am partial to experimental fiction. There is quite a bit of semblance of the real world and plot and character arcs are present as outlined above; none of it felt random to me in context. (Again, I’m not sure what it says about me that I was not at all concerned about, say, independently talking scars.) Most of all, the novel swallowed me up. I didn’t feel distanced from it, like I felt distanced from the Vonnegut I read. I read it over a period of less than 30 hours because it wouldn’t let me go.
Because I’ve felt like exploding, too. I’ve wanted to build an invisible helicopter and fly away. I’ve had that panic when the letters (aka multiple choice answers to a standardized test) are not correct. I’ve been concerned about how others perceive me and where I fit in, or if I fit in at all. Maybe sometimes I’ve even wanted to swallow myself, for different reasons. And so when I got to the part when the individuals on the island (that the helicopter takes the two characters to) rattle off their universities and majors (which were thankfully not all STEM; a stereotype I hate), I almost started crying, because it rang so true.
Plus, there’s this quote:
“Because nothing is perfect. Perfect is a myth. I want you to remember this. Perfect is a boldfaced lie. It’s a ham sandwich without ham. It’s a blue sky on Mondays when it rains on Wednesdays.”
And also in the acknowledgments (which also includes the amusing sentence: “Andrea Spooner, please edit this sentence so it somehow conveys the full appreciation I have for your trust.”):
“Student readers, thank you for reading. Thank you for writing to me. Thank you for being you. You are not ovals. You are not letters. You are human beings, and every time someone rolls their eyes at you because they think your opinion doesn’t count, picture me giving them the finger.”
It’s a quick read. It may be only a glimpse, but it’s powerful. It isn’t for everyone, and I’m not even sure I would recommend it to others. But I think it’s an experience I think I should share, in the spirit of sharing personal relationships with stories that are in themselves a very personal exploration for the author. That’s where the real power and influence of literature resides. Not in a Goodreads consensus, but in reaching the needs of readers, even if it isn’t everyone who picks it up.
Present-Day Olivia here! In the acknowledgments to her 2019 novel Dig. (in my opinion, her masterpiece, that I’ve read twice but I don’t think ever talked about on here because I was still processing it), she writes at the end: “Student readers: a few years ago, in the back of a book, I said that I’d flip off the adults in your lives who don’t think your opinions count. My fingers are tired. How do you put up with this crap?” And boy…how the world is quite different than we could have imagined back in 2015.