In The Marching Ant, debut novelist Allyson Chapa delivers a fictionalized account of her grandmother’s quest to secure a better life.
In 1954, eight-year-old Antonia “Annie” Garza works in a Texas cotton field to pay the gambling debts of her abusive father who blames her for her mother’s death during childbirth. When Annie learns from farmhands that other children attend school, she dreams of a future that includes education and a loving family.
At age 17, she strikes out on her own, relocating to Port Isabel, a coastal city three hours away. Hard working but illiterate, Annie finds successes and encounters obstacles while remaining steadfast in her belief that “If there’s a will, there’s a way.”
The Marching Ant consists of four parts that interweave the lives of Annie and her granddaughter, Alice. This structure showcases Annie’s important influence on her family. When studying ants for her third-grade science project, Alice realizes that “Ants also are willing to do anything for their families, just like my grandma.”
Chapa describes Annie’s journey with candor. She memorably conveys Annie’s dreary childhood house with its “aroma of emptiness and dust” and occasionally interjects Spanish words that reflect the bilingual environment. She excels at giving voice to young Annie, whose inner thoughts are shared in italicized passages.
As Annie matures, however, Chapa shares less of Annie’s feelings, particularly regarding key moments in her personal life. Given that the younger Annie was so introspective, this feels like a void, and one wants to know more of what the older Annie thinks. Also, at times, the shifting time periods and segues between storylines can be jarring.
Nevertheless, Chapa succeeds in honoring her grandmother’s legacy through a story that also sheds light on the stigmas associated with learning disabilities and menial labor. Overall, this is a moving inter-generational story of a woman who overcomes challenging circumstances.
Also available in paperback and ebook.