Acclaimed master of the YA novel A.S. King's eleventh book is a surreal and searing dive into the tangled secrets of a wealthy white family in suburban Pennsylvania and the terrible cost the family's children pay to maintain the family name.
The Shoveler, the Freak, CanIHelpYou?, Loretta the Flea-Circus Ring Mistress, and First-Class Malcolm. These are the five teenagers lost in the Hemmings family's maze of tangled secrets. Only a generation removed from being Pennsylvania potato farmers, Gottfried and Marla Hemmings managed to trade digging spuds for developing subdivisions and now sit atop a seven-figure bank account--wealth they've declined to pass on to their adult children or their teenage grandchildren. "Because we want them to thrive," Marla always says. What does thriving look like? Like carrying a snow shovel everywhere. Like selling pot at the Arby's drive-thru window. Like a first class ticket to Jamaica between cancer treatments. Like a flea-circus in a double-wide. Like the GPS coordinates to a mound of dirt in a New Jersey forest. As the rot just beneath the surface of the Hemmings' precious suburban respectability begins to spread, the far-flung grandchildren gradually find their ways back to one another, just in time to uncover the terrible cost of maintaining the family name.
With her inimitable surrealism and insight into teenage experience, A.S. King explores how a corrosive culture of polite, affluent white supremacy tears a family apart and how one determined generation can save themselves.--from the publisher
400 pages 978-1-101-99491-7 Ages 14 and up
“All your children are poor, unfortunate victims of lies you believe.”
--Frank Zappa (1967)
“Marla & Gottfried’s Easter Dinner
April 1, 2018
Marla Hemmings is hiding neon-colored plastic Easter eggs in the front flower bed. Four feet behind her, Gottfried is hacking at a patch of onion grass with a trowel. He stops to watch two spring robins chirp from a limb.
‘Do you think these are too hidden?’ Marla asks.
Gottfried looks back at the robins. He thinks of a day back when he’d just learned to drive. Seventeen at the most. Did he say that out loud? Marla looks at him as if he did. He thinks it again. Seventeen years old. Driving that finned 1960 Dodge Matador wagon his whole family used to fit into for trips to the beach or his faraway track meets. Warm day, just like this one. Easter coming. Two robins dancing in the middle of the road. He thought they were dancing. Then he thought they were fighting. Then he knew what they were doing. Seventeen is old enough to know what robins do in springtime.
‘I’m going to the side now,’ Marla says. She adjusts her gardening apron, picks up her basket of gleaming plastic eggs, and watches Gottfried look at the robins. ‘You’ll have to get the ham on soon.’
‘Ham,’ Gottfried says. ‘Gotcha.’
Marla shakes her head. She wonders sometimes if her husband is losing his mind. He only ever needed to go to work and mow the lawn. She raised five children and did all the work that came with it and she isn’t losing her mind.
The car was going too fast to stop. The robins were jumping up and then landing for another session, then rising again. By the time Gottfried got near enough to them to know he was going to hit them, he couldn’t slow down more than he had already. Thirty miles per hour to a robin is fast enough. Before he took the car home, he drove all the way across town to the automatic car wash. During the spray cycle he’d cried.
Gottfried never believed in the resurrection. Marla’s insistence on perfect Easter egg hunts since the kids were little annoyed him. Her obsession with them now that there were grandchildren was infuriating, especially considering their grandchildren were mostly grown--teenagers. When she asks questions like that--did he think the eggs were too hidden?--he wonders if Marla is losing her mind.
She says, ‘And don’t forget to peel the potatoes!’
He throws the lumps of onion grass into the woods that surround the house.
He goes inside and washes his hands.
He puts the ham in the roaster.
He empties a five-pound bag of potatoes in the sink and retrieves the peeler from the drawer. As he slices the skin off inch by inch, he thinks of the robins again and cries.”
Earlier this month, I had my most memorable birthday celebration since that surprise party in the dorm in 1976. My sister flew up from Central America for a visit. We hadn’t seen each other in person for more than five years, and the last time I saw her in person on my birthday must have also been back in the Seventies. We’re frequently in touch, but since we last got together, our father and little brother both died. It was certainly on our minds that it’s now just the two of us.
For days, we were able to talk and recount experiences that the other had missed over the years. We spent hours recalling all the screwed-up things our parents had done to us and how that had affected us and our troubled brother. And we talked about how those things had affected our parenting of our own children. Later, I started wondering what had happened in my grandparents’ generation to cause our parents to be the way they were.
DIG is about the children that Gottfried and Marla Hemmings screwed up, and the children that their children, in turn, screwed up. Told over the twelve weeks leading up to that Easter dinner at Gottfried and Marla’s house, the story delves into the lives of five troubled teens: The Shoveler, The Freak, CanIHelpYou?, Loretta the Flea Circus Mistress, and Malcolm. When three generations are brought together on Easter at Gottfried and Marla’s house, everything falls into place, sort of like a nuclear catastrophe.
DIG is also about racism, white privilege, and the impact of potatoes on Western Civilization. But, above all, DIG is about the never-ending reverberations of the malpractice of parents who were unfortunate victims of their own parents.
Fortunately, positive things come out of this momentous holiday get-together and there is a hopeful conclusion, thanks to the potential of the younger generation.
The story, filled with magic and mystery and a dose of pure evil, will challenge your assumptions and leave you thinking long afterward. This is one of the best written, most memorable young adult novels I’ve ever read. It’s that good.
400 pages 978-1-101-99491-7 Ages 14 and up
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA
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