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Lockdown Drills, Bomb Threats and Testing, Testing, Everywhere – a discussion of I CRAWL THROUGH IT by A. S. King

icrawlthroughitOccasionally someone will write an article suggesting that YA fiction is overly simplistic and not real literature, to which a very reasonable answer is always: Have you read A. S. King? King is just one of the authors that prove that YA fiction is not just fiction but true, challenging, high quality literature that reflects our world and challenges us to really think deeply about who we are and what we’re doing. Obviously, I’m a fan.

I was excited to hear there was a new King book coming out this fall and very excited to read it early. This book was challenging to me in so many ways: as a reader, as a mother, and as a member of the human race.

When The Teen started Kindergarten, I was appalled to learn after school one day that the teacher had turned off the lights and ordered all the kids to huddle in the corner of the classroom and practice being quiet in case someone bad came. These are the now notorious lock-down drills that schools across our country participate in because we have an epidemic of mass shooting that plague our schools and public spaces in ways that I could have never imagined when I was a child. As a parent, I can’t help but wonder what type of psychological trauma we may be inflicting on our children by having them practice as early as age 5 what to do when a “bad guy” comes to school. As a member of the human race, I can’t even begin to fathom how it is that we allowed ourselves to get to this point and what we can do to rectify it.

At the same time, I also find myself fuming about the massive focus on testing that has inundated our schools. The Teen has spent more time in school learning testing strategies than she has actually learning the content of the subjects she is supposed to be testing on it seems. In elementary school her homework consisted not of doing multiple math problems but of highlighting passages on standardized worksheets to demonstrate that she knew good test taking strategies. When news came out this week about the arrest of Ahmed Muhamed in Irving, Texas for his creation of a clock, I couldn’t help but think that we spend so much time focusing on tests and reducing our students to numbers that we no longer know who are students are and what their skills and passions are. Imagine what type of reaction Ahmed would have had if a teacher had taken the time to really get to know this young man and knew what he was capable of and was therefor not at all surprised to see Ahmed sharing yet another marvelous engineering invention.

Lock-down drills, bomb threats, mass shootings, standardized testing . . . these are just a few of the very real topics that A. S. King takes on in very surreal ways in her new novel I CRAWL THROUGH IT. Metaphorically speaking, these teens are crawling through this life with the weight of the world on their shoulders, leading them to cope with life in unique ways. One young man is building an invisible helicopter to escape to a possibly real or possibly not island, one young woman has turned herself into an inside out digestive tract, another wears a lab coat as a suit of armor, and still another has hair that grows when she lies.

What is real and what is not in this world? The emotion is truer than true; the effects on the mental health and emotional well being of our teens may be communicated in various surreal ways but there is no denying the stark reality of their lives and the depth of emotion it brings. Even in those moments when readers may be challenged to understand the symbolism and abstraction, which King has hinted at in past works but has definitely ramped up in unique ways trusting her teen readers to think and feel and be challenged in this latest, they will connect with the emotional plight of our characters. These teens ARE our teens.

More than anything, I loved the ways that King challenged me to think about these very real issues in the lives of teens. And I loved the imagery of literally crawling through it, whatever it may be, to get to a different place. This imagery is played out brilliantly at the end of the novel in ways that felt tangible to me. As someone who has had many life experiences where I felt like I was barely crawling through them just hoping to get to the other side 0f – well, something – I liked the ways that King chose to make this happen for her characters.

I’m not going to lie, this is a book I feel like I would have to read a few more times to truly understand and take it all in. It is the type of book I imagine that college professors will be asking their literature students to read and dissect in the future. Like MORE THAN THIS by Patrick Ness, it’s a book I understand was bordering on brilliant even though I am still trying to process it. It’s also a book I have wanted to discuss with everyone. There are parts of it that are truly mesmerizing, parts that are truly haunting, and parts that make me want to march onto Washington and demand change for my kiddos, both the two I gave birth to and the many others I nurture daily in my library life.

I hope that I CRAWL THROUGH IT by A. S. King is just the first of many more explorations of the effects of lock-down drills and pernicious testing that begin to fill our YA collections. These are topics that are teens are in fact wrestling with and thinking about, and King does a masterful job of exploring them in truly unique ways. If you work with or care about teens, you’ll definitely want to read this.

Publisher’s Book Description:

Four teenagers are on the verge of exploding. The anxieties they face at every turn have nearly pushed them to the point of surrender: senseless high-stakes testing, the lingering damage of past trauma, the buried grief and guilt of tragic loss. They are desperate to cope, but no one is listening.

So they will lie. They will split in two. They will turn inside out. They will even build an invisible helicopter to fly themselves far away…but nothing releases the pressure. Because, as they discover, the only way to truly escape their world is to fly right into it.

The genius of acclaimed author A.S. King reaches new heights in this groundbreaking work of surrealist fiction; it will mesmerize readers with its deeply affecting exploration of how we crawl through traumatic experience-and find the way out.

Releases September 22, 2015 from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780316334099

I received a copy of this ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Further Reading:

US|In Age of School Shootings, Lockdown Is the New Fire Drill

Growing Up Locked Down – What are the psychological …

The Harsh Dilemma Of Preparing Kids For The Worst

Testing Our Schools | FRONTLINE | PBS

What is Wrong with Standardized Testing (Infographic)

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Standardized Testing

If you have other great links to discussions on these topics please add them in the comments


  1. Kids used to have drills where they were taught how to hide under their desks in case an atomic bomb was dropped on them! I hardly think traumatizing our kids based on worst case scenarios is anything new in schools, but that’s not exactly cause to jump for joy!

    • Karen Jensen, TLT Karen Jensen, TLT says

      This is definitely true, though I do tend to think there is something different in a natural disaster drill and a shooter drill. It’s easier to explain nature to kids then it is a bad person with a gun intent on doing random people harm for reasons we don’t understand. At least, that’s my opinion. 🙂

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