Let me be right up front about something: I couldn't wait to read this book.
There aren't a whole ton of people writing literature - Literature with a capital L - for teens these days, and even fewer that I can stand to read. Not because they're bad, not at all - but because the truth of teens is so hard. If you write it well, it's going to hurt.
Everybody Sees the Ants hurt. Reality Boy, that too. But after reading Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, which had pain but also love and humor and that whole thing where you hate your best friend - well, there was no way I was not going to hit that pipe again just as soon as possible. I got a copy of I Crawl Through It at this year's School Library Journal Day of Dialog, and I started it on the subway back to the hotel.
The other thing I have to tell you right away is that this book is described as "surrealist." I expect that might be a problem word for some people, and I think it's because surrealism has been used as an excuse for artists to just throw a pile of wacky on a pedestal and stand back waiting for their turn to collaborate with Lady Gaga.
But real surrealism, Surrealism Original Flavor, was all rigor. Much of the work of Man Ray was fucking brutal. Duchamp was a goofball who liked wearing silly hats but he was so anti-artifice that he needed to tell us all that THIS is NOT a goddamn PIPE. Stop looking at the wall of your caves and get your heads into the world!
In I Crawl Through It, reality - if you think reality is hard objects and literal descriptions - lives in the back room, or maybe down the block. It's not the lens through which we learn this story, which is the story of Stanzi (not her real name), Gustav, China, and Lansdale.
Because sometimes too much accuracy makes it difficult to see. Medical illustrators attend surgeries to get reference images for their work, and some of them take photos, but many of them sketch. Photos just show a bunch of red gook inside a person, but a drawing can pinpoint the ampulla of vater or the islets of langerhans.
In the same way - and this is Amy King's gift, to find the guideposts, the emotional islets of langerhans, if you will, amid the behavioral red gook - Lansdale's ever-growing hair and Gustav's invisible helicopter reveal the emotional truths of these characters far more precisely than literal description of their behavior or appearance would.
It would otherwise be so tedious, to try to tease that out. And inexplicable. Think of the teenagers who have committed sudden mass violence upon their peers. This book is obsessed with them. How would you describe their behavior and appearance? All we have learned, through grinding CNN repetition, is that nothing can be learned from such description. A black trenchcoat, some barely-coherent irruption of pain and bile on the Internet - NOT USEFUL. Better to look at them through a different lens.
Everyone who spoke about I Crawl Through It at BEA said they were having trouble describing it. What I like about writing my own reviews is that I feel like I don't have to. I'm not writing a summary. You can find out what happens for yourself, if indeed anything happens. Instead, I'll leave you with a piece of art:
What she sees or what we see: what is the reality? And does what we see even matter? I Crawl Through It comes out September 22.