We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

A review of the Young Adult science fiction novel We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson.

This was the premise that caught my attention:

Henry Denton has spent years being periodically abducted by aliens. Then the aliens give him an ultimatum: The world will end in 144 days, and all Henry has to do to stop it is push a big red button.

Only he isn’t sure he wants to.

The book had me from the get-go. The themes of this novel can be pretty intense but are handled thoughtfully and carefully, though not without poignant moments of clarity.

The novel focuses on Henry Denton, a high schooler struggling in the months after his boyfriend’s suicide. The loss was unexpected (as suicides often can be) and seemingly without reason as no note was left behind. He is grieving, angry and confused. He has admittedly fallen into some pretty bad decision making; life hasn’t stood still as it so often feels after such a punch to the heart. His grandmother’s Alzheimer’s has progressed, his mother is sitting on the edge of alcoholism, and his drop-out brother hits a milestone of his own.

This might sound like a lot, but Hutchinson layers these relationships, weaves them and develops them throughout the novel. This is all stitched together by Henry’s narrative; a compelling, nihilistic and humorous viewpoint. Henry falters in his grief and confusion regarding the world—one might say he would push the button without thinking and you understand why. You feel his grief every time he hesitates and wonders if the world is worth saving.

Every character has a thread of their own with lives and emotions that are both rick and complex. Each one adds to Henry’s confusion, desires and grief in their own way as he tries to navigate the world after loss. His mother isn’t perfect, she isn’t portrayed as a complete failure or as someone Henry shouldn’t lean on which is far too common in young adult novels.

I’m not entirely sure which genre to place this novel in. The science fiction elements—such as the aliens—do not appear as frequently as I expected them to, despite them triggering the inciting incident. I would mostly lean towards contemporary young adult, as most of the focus is on Henry’s life outside of the spaceship and his conflict with whether to push the button. That being said, I believe it to be a perfect blend of both and Henry’s love of astronomy permeates his inner thoughts throughout.

There is a theme that I am sure everyone has felt at one time or another, particularly as a teenager. We Are the Ants is a book about empathy and touches some extremely dark themes, in a healing and thoughtful manner.

Sometimes she writes. Sometimes she doesn’t. Either way, she’s not doing what she’s supposed to be doing.

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