Before you ask: no, the sluggers have never probed my anus. I’m fairly certain they reserve that special treat for people who talk on their phones during movies, or text while driving. ~ Henry Denton
We Are The Ants follows Henry Denton, a teen who for years now has been periodically abducted by aliens, whom Henry refers to as sluggers, because they resemble slugs to him. There’s been no probing though — or at least that’s when Henry tells us (see quote above).
So after these abductions have been going on for quite some time, the aliens finally communicate to Henry that the world is going to be destroyed in 144 days. But not all hope is lost. All Henry has to do is push a big red button to stop it and Wham! Earth saved.
The kicker is that Henry isn’t sure he wants to.
You see, Henry’s not all that pleased with his life at the moment. A year ago, Henry’s boyfriend and first love Jesse committed suicide, for which Henry seems to be blaming himself. He is continuously tortured and bullied at school, with one of the bullies — a popular jock named Marcus — using Henry for sex (though he tries to assure Henry that he genuinely does care for him — but it’s up to the reader to decide whether to believe him or not).
Then there are the constant taunts at school with the students referring to him as Space Boy because Charlie, his jerk of a brother, told everyone at school about the abductions. But there’s more: Henry’s grandmother has Alzheimer’s, and Henry recognizes her less and less as each day passes — and his mother is an alcoholic.
So the more Henry thinks about it, the more the idea of wiping the slate clean sounds like a pretty good choice to him because right now, he’s not feeling like the world deserves to be saved. Though he doesn’t explicitly say it, I felt that perhaps Henry found the idea of finally escaping from his daily suffering alluring. But he hasn’t made his decision yet. He’s desperately trying to find a good reason for saving the earth and thus far, has been unsuccessful.
And then one day, a new boy named Diego Vega arrives at school. Henry and the boy connect, and an unusual relationship develops between the two of them.
Up to this point, Henry was almost certain he wasn’t going to press the button. But now, there’s someone he can confide in, someone to support him. So Henry begins to weigh his pain with his happiness as the days count down to when he has to make the ultimate decision.
So does Henry push the button?
WHAT I LIKED
I really liked Henry’s character — he was sarcastic, witty, and funny, and you couldn’t help but fall in love with him. He had a way of adding a light and humorous twist to otherwise serious situations such as his alien abductions. I also liked how relatable and believable Henry’s character was. I think many readers can relate to the bullying that Henry went through in high school as well as some of the difficulties Henry had to deal with in his troubled home life.
No doubt most of us have experienced a grim view of the world from time to time when we’re going through tough times, like our protagonist. I felt that the author did an excellent job of portraying Henry’s struggles and I liked how brutally honest Henry is with himself through the process. Perhaps many of us have even wondered at times whether the world is worth saving. While reading this story, I wanted so badly for Henry to find some beauty in the world, to discover the peace he longed for — and the reader can’t help but empathize with him.
I’ve read a few Shaun David Hutchinson books, and as is typical, things get a lot worse for the main character before they get better — which means that things do get better for Henry once Diego enters the picture. He’s a bright light in Henry’s dark world, and I couldn’t help but love this charming, lovable character. But Diego doesn’t end up saving Henry; it’s up to Henry to save himself. So though this story is heartbreaking in places, it heartwarming in others, and ends up being a hopeful story at the end of it all.
What I also liked about this book was that though Henry was gay, he was not struggling with his homosexuality. In fact, he was quite comfortable with who he is, which I found refreshing.
Now though it might sound as though this is a grim, somewhat dark book, it’s not. It’s actually quite funny in places, so in spite of the serious subject matter, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Along with the darkness, there is light. There is levity, and there is lightheartedness, which makes the story all the more unique and likable in my opinion. This is the kind of story that will make you laugh, make you cry, make you happy and make you angry, and only a truly talented author can pull this off with the adeptness that Mr. Hutchinson does.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
There’s not anything that I didn’t like about this story. The only thing I was a teeny-tiny bit disappointed with was the sci-fi aspect of it — or should I say the lack thereof. Going in, I thought there would be a more significant focus on the alien abductions, but they actually played only a minute role in the plot line. This wasn’t really a science fiction novel at all and once I realized that, I was fine with it. Just a warning to those who are going in expecting a science fiction story — it’s not.
We Are The Ants ended up being quite an emotional rollercoaster of a book, so it was a tough one to read in places, as it dealt with some serious and complex issues such as violence, bullying, self-harm, abuse, rape, dementia and more. It’s also quite evident that Henry is broken — he’s depressed, grieving for his boyfriend and keeping every traumatizing experience he’s going through bottled up inside. So in this way, a lot of heartbreaking things happen to our hero, and it becomes clear that Henry’s not just some angsty teen, but he’s going through some serious shit. As a reader, I could feel Henry’s desperation pour out of the pages and because of this, the story was quite cringe-worthy at times as it veered off into some painful places.
But in spite of the serious themes of this novel, it ends with hope, reminding us that things won’t always stay the way they are now and that we shouldn’t allow the bad things to overshadow the good. It also illustrated nicely how it’s up to us to pull ourselves up out of the darkness by making the conscious decision to let the past go and to move on.
This is a beautiful, unique and memorable book and is so worth the read, IMHO. I ended up loving it. It’s beautifully written, and it asks some super tough questions, giving the reader plenty to think about well after the last page of the story. Additionally, all the characters in this book are phenomenal: complex, multilayered with each one being relevant to the story. I can state pretty truthfully that I will without a doubt be rereading this book in the near future.
Once again, Shaun David Hutchinson hit a home run for me. This was a brilliantly written, refreshing and unputdownable novel and I give this book 5 out of 5 stars.
You can check out We Are The Ants here at Amazon or at The Book Depository.