Tuesday Reviews Day: We Are the Ants, Shaun David Hutchinson

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This book came in one of my Book Riot boxes, one of those I used to sub to that came with three books four times a year and somehow, I never seemed able to keep up with them. I’ve been wanting to read this book for awhile now and finally, I’ve gotten around to it. This book was …. well, it was definitely worth the wait, and yet I wish I’d read it twenty times by now.

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We Are the Ants follows Henry Denton, a teenage boy trying — and honestly, failing — to recover from the fairly recent loss of his boyfriend Jesse to suicide, and the subsequent loss of their best friend, Audrey. Everything feels like it’s spinning wildly out of control, even when you don’t consider the annoying fact that Henry regularly gets abducted by aliens.

The aliens want Henry to press a button, a button that will apparently, somehow, stop the end of the world. But they don’t tell him why the world will end, or how, or why Henry has to be the one to stop it. They do tell him that D-day is coming soon: 144 days, exactly.

But Henry doesn’t feel like there’s much to live for. Jesse’s gone, after all, and high school is hell on earth, even more so for him than anyone else. But when an attractive new kid shows up who apparently has a thing for Henry, he starts wondering if maybe life is worth living after all, even if only for 144 days.

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This book was … intense. There was just so much happening, but in a good way. It felt overwhelming at times, but for me that kind of worked. It felt immersive in its intensity, in a way that made me really feel what Henry was going through. The bullying Henry endures is sometimes difficult to read, and my heart absolutely broke for his poor Nana. But Henry felt real in a way that teenage protagonists don’t always feel.

We Are the Ants is interesting, engaging, and raw — it is pure character-driven emotion, and I loved it for that. I laughed at loud at (some of) Henry’s jokes, and yes, I actually cried real tears. More than once. This book made me ache. It is a book that should feel hopeless, a book that should be draining, and yet it surprisingly is not. It is hopeful in the saddest and best of ways. It is the lone candle shining against a vast darkness. It is, I think, extraordinarily relevant in a time when loneliness and hopelessness visits all of us, when the question that dominates Henry’s thoughts occasionally lingers in ours as well:

If you knew the world was going to end, but you had the power to stop it, would you?

Would you?

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How I found it: I know I got this in a Book Riot box, but I have no idea which one, y’all.
Genre: Contemporary YA, LGBT+, Sci-fi
Does it pass the Bechdel test? No
Is it a standalone? Yes
So what worked? The characters. Every one of them felt realistic, fully imagined and fleshed out. They felt like they could exist in the real world. Okay, Charlie was a little bit of a caricature for awhile, but I actually kind of liked him for that.
What didn’t work? The abrasive tone at the beginning was a bit jarring, but that’s probably just because it’s so different from what I’ve been reading lately. By the end of the book, I found it endearing, so I guess it isn’t so much that this doesn’t work as it’s something you may have to get used to. But it’s worth it.

Overall: This is an excellent book. It is definitely worth the read, although I would add content notes regarding suicide/self-harm, severe bullying, and assault. While the book does go into detail with not only these events but also their aftermath and the trauma survivors can endure, it also emphasizes the importance of being there for your friends, paying attention to warning signs, and seeking help without shame or embarrassment. It was an absolute rollercoaster of emotions; it made me want to hug each of my family members and call all my friends and tell them I love them. It was an inspiring work of art, and also a quiet whisper of hope in the dark. It was horrible and beautiful and happy and sad …. It was really, really good.

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