The grandparents, Marla and Gottfried, sold off the family potato farm and developed it into a suburban subdivision to make a fortune. Their five children, who did not benefit from their parent’s new wealth, are all a wreck in one way or another, and their five children, the teens in the story, are a lot more together than the previous two generations, in “Dig” (Dutton 2019) by A.S. King, winner of the prestigious Printz Award.
The cover image at first glance looks like something anatomical, vaguely heart-like, but a closer look shows potatoes and their root system—the perfect image for this book.
So, there are twelve main characters plus two others—and they have actual names, but you don’t learn them until near the end of the book. The young adult generation in the story are Malcolm, the Shoveler, Loretta the Flea Circus Ringmaster, CanIHelpYou?, and the Freak. If I didn’t read in bed on my way to sleep, I would have made a chart and filled in their names as I went. And their lineage—which one is their parent.
I trusted, as I read this magical fabulously-written book, that it would come clear if I just let it wash over me. Well, sort of, but I still would have benefited from that chart. As it was, I actually had to keep thinking—THINKING—who was the parent of this one, who was the child of that one. But the microcosmic bits keep you going.
We get the history of the potato, which in itself, is fascinating, but is it as stupendous as the invention of the flush toilet, Malcolm wonders. The Shoveler wants to know who his dad is, while his mother is busy shoplifting porkchops. Loretta is a mess of flea bites, but it’s worth it because the fleas she keeps in her lunch box keep her going. CanIHelpYou? takes orders at a fast food window, as well as fills drug orders from her clients. The Freak “flickers” from place to place, visiting each of her four estranged cousins. This is the thread of magical realism that runs through the story. And we wonder why, until we finally get it near the end.
All of these kids and their parents could have their troubles ameliorated if the grandparents would part with a little of their cash—all except CanIHelpYou? who turns out to have immensely rich parents herself. The author addresses entitlement—specifically white entitlement—as well as racism and colonialism. Malcolm frequently visits Jamaica with his father who is dying of cancer, and maybe falls in love with a Jamaican girl. You might think I’m delivering a dozen spoilers here, but trust me, you’ll appreciate the help these spoilers offer. There’s so much to dig through here. Oh yes, and it’s a mystery.
Here is a perfect example of Young Adult literature being break-out literature—and it’s literature that will be read (by young adults and adults)—not sit gathering dust on a bookshelf.
Patricia Hruby Powell’s new and timely book about civil rights and the vote Lift As You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker releases on June 9, 2020. She teaches community classes at Parkland. talesforallages.com