Surviving High School: the aNT’S Club Way: Troy MCCOMBS
Metamorphosis means change. Before a butterfly emerges from its cocoon it goes through many different stages. Within the pages of this novel you will meet four teens that are going through more than just adolescent changes. Some will fight their own demons while one young man named Matt Ingis will teach every reader, every educator, every parent, administrator and every bullying the true meaning of acceptance, differences and why all of us are entitled to feel and accept love and friendship. When you enter Blake High School you will meet Matt and his best friend Ray who along with many other students endure the insult, wrath, abuse, verbal slurs and physical abuse of a select group of bullies who thrive on the pain and hurt of others. This book is an inspiration to everyone who has ever endured being hurt, bullied, insulted and beaten both someone who feels he/she is better, stronger and yet uses it as a defense against something that they might have endured. Burying yourself and shielding yourself from hurt is part of what the author is trying to teach everyone that needs to be addressed. You have to face your fears, realize that you are worth the love and friendship of others but more important the ability to fight back with words not fights plays an integral part in this enlightening novel.
Matt Ingis is sitting at the lunch table with an ant crawling on his finger. Thinking that his life and self worth are as small as this insect what happens next is no surprise. Is this ant really a meaningless life form? Why does he feel that no one including his therapist understands him or can help him? Instead of succumbing to bullying Matt is about employ and embark on a journey that will enlighten you to what happens when you just want to survive high school.
Duke Rogers was the king of the bullies and all of his cronies just went along with his taunts, raves and harsh punishments for anyone he thought weak. Matt was the brunt of his attention this day and by the end of lunch he felt tormented, dejected and hurt both inwardly and out. The insults came not only from him but from others too and when his math teacher seemed not very sympathetic to his discomforts unfeeling you can tell that Matt was in for a hard time all around. Hearing what Matt thought within his own mind that Mr. Dockson held inside but did not verbalize, he realized he thought he was a moron, loser and more. Never asking why he cut class or did not do his work he just told him he wouldn’t graduate unless he shapes up. Never once did he realize there was much more to what was happening to Matt.
His therapist Red Manning asked questions, wanted to help him sort his feelings but Matt didn’t really want to talk with him it was his mother who insisted he see him or wind up in a detention center with kids much more dangerous than the ones in his school. So, Matt decided to try something to uplift himself and his friend Ray. Each taunt made it worse. Red Mannings psychotherapy or Mr. Dockson’s Algebra only created more questions and Matt needed something to uplift him not just Ray coming over to spend the night. Not fighting back made it easier to those that found him as easy prey but the idea he has to find people at least two others started out as the first positive sign that he and three others might be able to help each other. The Ants Club just like the minuscule ant that is so small it is often stomped out or ignored. Even his mother did not understand or even ask why he kept skipping class and threatened to call Ray or worse until Matt gave in to her demands and reluctantly went to school knowing that the worst has yet to come. Either go to school, do you homework or Briarwell what choice did he have?
Ray enlisted two others to be apart of the Ants Club: Josh and Shawn each one hoping to find some type of solace, answers or just forming a friendship that would strengthen they all but sometimes the best intentions backfire and although Matt really wanted to help others and has a good heart things spiral in a different direction and lessons are learned but not in an easy way. The author creates several interesting and realistic scenes at the bus stop, the taunts by Duke, Matt’s legs feel like rubber and he tries to move but yet hearing voices in different directions and all of Duke’s friends were there and Matt knew that he was the sacrificial lamb in their sick world of bullying. Debbie Diane was a girl he really likes and he knew that was impossible and would never happen. Bringing back the ant that is crawling up onto the palm of his hand he apologizes for Duke’s cruelty in killing one of his relatives and talks to the fly as if it was a friend or a person who would listen and accept him for the person he is and hope to become someone stronger but how?
Within himself he tries to realize or think that Humans are a superior race and of course what they say goes but in his mind does he believe this?
Things get worse at lunch but then he and Ray talk about the Ants Club and their first meeting. Anyone who has ever been bullied or considered an outcast must feel and understand how Matt, Ray, Shawn and Josh feel and the outcomes will surprise readers as sometimes the harsh truths settle in and even though some try to change others might give up and when you do something to hurt yourself or give in to the bullies they win.
Did you ever pray for a snow day and even more snow days? Matt did but things changed as he and the three others started what he hoped would be a positive solution for all three. Their first meeting seemed to set a positive tone but the next day in school seemed to be the same. As all three introduced themselves in order to get to know where they came from, their family units or non-units the reality of why these four were feeling alienated comes through. Josh feels unloved and his father left even before he could come to know him and RAY feels the same as his dad left him behind and you can feel the anger coming out. Shawn seemed to hold it in for a time but the end result will shock readers into the mindset of someone who needs help but did not get it nor did anyone recognize the hurt within this young teen. Within pages 58-60 you get an inside look at Josh, his room, the fact that he loves to read, the sadness within his heart, the lack of trust he has for most people, the great grades he gets for himself yet never recognized by anyone else, no encouragement and the self inflicted pain on the inside and the out. He just wanted to feel accepted and needed but Josh like the other three was the brunt of the bullying of the others and at times could not and did not blow it off.
Josh goes through a traumatic experience in school and Shawn comes to see him after injured by Duke. Why didn’t any adults stop him and while talking about the Ant’s club but was this the answer to their problems? Shawn Timbland’s day was not much better and Briarwell hung over all four friends. Shawn hated most people, parents, peers and everyone and the hatred in his heart multiplied until he finally explodes. Sticking up for a friend was one way to let Duke know that he was not in charge of what he said and did but Shawn for the time being would remain part of their club but for how long? So, how do you fight back and win?
Matt was concerned because Ray disappeared for a long time and when he does return he will realize that sometimes you can only safe someone if they want to be safe while others have a mindset that cannot be changed. Josh and Shawn became his newest friends. The author shares information about Shawn and his phobias and the fact that at times he was explosive where Josh on the downside no aggression in him that appears at times boring but it’s the quiet ones that you have to watch sometimes because you don’t know what they are thinking. Things temper for a while but Matt is given an ultimatum and an or else by his mother while deciding how to handle Duke and what he did to one of the group.
As the story concludes and the situations become grave Matt finds himself feeling guilty over what he did not do to help Josh and his feelings about not answering a phone call and blaming himself for what happens next. Chapter 10 is sad, graphic and tragic and at this point the author teaches Matt many hard lessons and he reflects on himself, what he feels are his failures and what he feels he needs to do next.
Matt took it hard when something happens to one of his friends but his mind was changed and Matt decided that he would no longer be a victim but what was he planning to do and how would he stand up to Duke and his cronies? Chapter 10 is the turning point for Matt and he faces off with the bullies but you have to read it for yourself as the author created several scenes that are graphic, heartbreaking and yet quite compelling. As Matt Ingis made up his mind that never again! Then someone else snaps and Matt realizes that he is the only one that might be able to stop what someone else started. The ending is quite shocking and the author allows readers to understand the true impact of what happens when someone’s mind is set that they don’t count, that they have to fight back in anyway they can but will the ending be tragic and cost lives? Friendships are frayed, alliances broken and the author creates a novel that should be required reading for all teens, teachers, supervisors, counselors, bullies and middle graders to understand the impact words and fists can have on the mind of someone else when targeted by bullies. Characters true to life and one young teen who just wanted to SURVIVE HIGH SCHOOL and one outstanding author named Troy MCCOMBS.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ Magazine