We Are the Ants - Shaun David Hutchinson

Henry Denton doesn’t know why the aliens chose to abduct him when he was thirteen, and he doesn’t know why they continue to steal him from his bed and take him aboard their ship. He doesn’t know why the world is going to end or why the aliens have offered him the opportunity to avert the impending disaster by pressing a big red button. But they have. And they’ve only given him 144 days to make up his mind.

Since the suicide of his boyfriend, Jesse, Henry has been adrift. He’s become estranged from his best friend, started hooking up with his sworn enemy, and his family is oblivious to everything that’s going on around them. As far as Henry is concerned, a world without Jesse is a world he isn’t sure is worth saving. Until he meets Diego Vega, an artist with a secret past who forces Henry to question his beliefs, his place in the universe, and whether any of it really matters. But before Henry can save the world, he’s got to figure out how to save himself, and the aliens haven’t given him a button for that.

Like many books over the years, from the likes of Andrew Smith, A.S. King, and Neal Shusterman, We Are the Ants sounds absurd at a surface level. But also like so many other novels from the last year with absurd sounding synopses, this book contains emotional depth, strong characterization, and prose that will make you laugh, cry, and cheer for Henry Denton, no matter his decision about the end of the world and his feelings for Diego, his dead boyfriend Jesse, and his once-best-friend Audrey.

Henry's story is heartbreaking. He is living with a brother who doesn't seem to care for him at all, a mother who wants him to be "the sane one" and a grandmother who is losing her sense of self. Henry has a complicated relationship with Marcus, a self-destructive jock he goes to school with, and is the brunt of intense bullying, both because of his sexuality and because of the fact that he has been abducted by aliens. His relationship with Diego is also incredibly complicated. Henry isn't sure about how Diego feels about him and doesn't know how to reconcile his feelings about Diego with his feelings about Jesse's suicide.

Hutchinson handles subjects like suicide, miscarriage, and rape with incredible sensitivity. The mix of science fiction and contemporary realism is seamless, and really heightens the urgency of what is happening between Henry, his family, Audrey, Diego, and Marcus. Diego and Audrey are compelling secondary characters who up the stakes of Henry's own sense of self-worth (or lack thereof). They also both manage to complicate what Henry initially thinks is an easy choice as to whether or not to allow the earth to be destroyed.

This book explores family, friendship, sex, death, mental illness, divorce, old age, history, and the very meaning of life. And if you think that sounds like too much to fit into one book, I can assure you it's not. The the 450 pages may seem daunting at first, the subject matter is engaging, fascinating, and haunting in equal measures. If this book doesn't get under your skin, I would be surprised.

With a deft hand and a strong voice, Hutchinson weaves a tale that is as exciting as it is deeply unsettling. This book broke me, in the best possible way. I can't wait to share We Are the Ants with the world!!

Highly Recommended

(Note: This review is from an Advance Reading Copy - Out January 2016.)


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