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Allyson Chapa
The Marching Ant
Bound by her father’s gambling debts, Antonia “Annie” has spent her youth picking cotton in Big Spring, Texas. When a worksite welfare check takes the workers by surprise, the truth of Annie’s repression is unveiled and changes her perspective forever. In her desperation to experience a free life and create a foundation for her future children, Annie fiercely sets her eyes on dreaming big and daring to learn. With hopes to one day become a writer, Annie’s journey is nothing short of extraordinary. Nostalgic and inspiring by turns, The Marching Ant is an empowering acknowledgment to the burden of intergenerational trauma and a celebration of those who have the grit and good fortune to overcome it. Chapa reminds us that life’s biggest learnings come from outside of the classroom
Chapa’s wrenching yet heartening debut, based on her grandmother’s life, will shock, horrify, and ultimately inspire. The childhood of abused Antonia “Annie” Rivas in the 1950s is positively heartbreaking: rather than sending her to school, her father (a widower) makes her pick cotton all day starting at age nine, and when Annie turns 12, he settles a large financial debt with a pedophile who wants to rape his daughter on a regular basis. At 18, Annie escapes from her hell in her hometown of Big Spring, Texas, and steals away to Port Isabel, Texas, to take a job as a waitress. It is there that she meets and marries the sailor of her dreams, Art Garza.

Chapa toggles between Annie’s third-person voice and her granddaughter’s (named Alice in the book) first-person voice as it covers five decades of intimate history. Annie bears three children, navigates marriage hiccups, struggles to learn how to read and write (which, due to a suspected case of dyslexia, never fully happens) and works hard in a number of different jobs, including being a janitor at Alice’s school. For her part, Alice is inspired by her grandmother to study and learn as much as she can, culminating in acceptance to the University of Texas at Austin—ultimately, she’s the first person in her family to graduate from college.

Annie’s horrific abuse, described in frank language, makes this a tough read: Readers will find it challenging to accept that a father could fail his child so willfully, but they will be humbled by Annie’s grit, resolve, and her ability to power through even the most awful situations—and by her beloved granddaughter’s love and admiration. In fact, the title comes from ants’ ability to lift more than 100 times their body weight—much like Annie. Chapa pays beautiful tribute to the importance of family and one courageous woman in particular with this heartfelt and heart-wrenching tale.

Takeaway: This heartbreaking yet ultimately inspirational story personifies tenacity and the will to survive.

Great for fans of: Dave Pelzer’s A Child Called It, K.L. Randis’s Spilled Milk.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-