Saturday, April 30, 2016

Book Review: "We Are the Ants" By Shaun David Hutchinson

I stayed up until nearly 2:00 a.m. to finish this book and I cannot stop thinking about it. Honestly, I read a good amount of YA fiction, and a lot of it is tremendously well-written and emotionally evocative, but I've not been this blown away by a book since I read Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun, which made my list of the best books I read in 2014.

Seriously. This one was brutal and absolutely beautiful.

"Sometimes I think gravity may be death in disguise. Other times I think gravity is love, which is why love's only demand is that we fall."

For the last few years, aliens have periodically abducted Henry Denton. As if high school wasn't already difficult to deal with. The aliens don't tell Henry what they want from him or why they've chosen him, but apart from leaving him nearly naked in strange places all over his Florida town, they haven't hurt him too badly.

No one believes Henry's stories, except his boyfriend Jesse. But Jesse recently killed himself, and Henry believes he is to blame, or at least should have seen how badly Jesse was hurting. Everyone else in Henry's life, including his fellow classmates, taunt him and call him "Space Boy," making every day at school a living hell. And his home life isn't much better—his mother works more and more shifts as a waitress while her real dream is to be a chef; his older brother abuses him physically and psychologically nearly every day; and his grandmother, suffering from Alzheimer's, seems to have fewer and fewer lucid moments.

The aliens have given Henry an ultimatum: Earth will be destroyed in 144 days, unless Henry makes the decision to save the world. All he has to do is push a button. But does Henry want to save the world? Is the world really worth saving without Jesse in it?

"Most people probably believe they would have pressed the button in my situation—nobody wants the world to end, right?—but the truth is that nothing is as simple as it seems. Turn on the news; read some blogs. The world is a shit hole, and I have to consider whether it might be better to wipe the slate clean and give the civilization that evolves from the ashes of our bones a chance to get it right."

As the deadline draws closer, Henry searches for evidence that the world is worth saving—in the bully who wants to be with Henry in secret but terrorizes him in public; in Audrey, his former best friend, who used to be an enormous part of his life; in the new student who adds some mystery into Henry's life; and Henry's family members, each dealing with their own struggles. Sure, there are moments when life isn't so bad, but Henry has to decide whether humanity is worth saving or if letting the world end would also end his own emotional anguish.

We Are the Ants is a difficult book to read at times, emotionally. It seems incredible that Henry would allow himself to be treated the way he is by so many people, and that no one would put a stop to it, but the truth is, this type of thing happens more often than not in real life. He is such an incredible character—as are many of the supporting characters—that you root for them to be happy even as you begin to understand that maybe Henry's pain is too much for anyone to bear.

That's not to say that the book is a total downer. There were many moments that made me smile and laugh, and moments that touched my heart and made me even cry good tears (as opposed to the ugly ones I cried at other times). I haven't ever read anything that Shaun David Hutchinson has written before, but after this, rest assured I will. This is such an inventive, moving, beautiful book I feel utterly privileged to have read. I won't soon forget it.

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