Rummanah Aasi
 If you only have time to read just one YA book this year, then I would highly recommend picking up We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson. This book was exquisitely written and left me thinking about it long after I closed the last page. It is my first 5 star read of 2016.

Description: There are a few things Henry Denton knows, and a few things he doesn’t.
Henry knows that his mom is struggling to keep the family together, and coping by chain-smoking cigarettes. He knows that his older brother is a college dropout with a pregnant girlfriend. He knows that he is slowly losing his grandmother to Alzheimer’s. And he knows that his boyfriend committed suicide last year.

What Henry doesn’t know is 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.

The question is whether Henry thinks the world is worth saving. That is, 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.

Review: The writing style of We Are the Ants is very reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut's masterpiece Slaughterhouse Five. While the book is categorized as science fiction, it is mostly science fiction in the allegorical sense. Henry Denton is a depressed, nihilistic teen who is having an existential crisis. He has been abducted by aliens and have been told by them that the world will end. Strangely, they give Henry a red button that he can press to save the world but is the world and humanity worthy enough to be saved? From Henry's point of view, humans are not the center of the world, we are actually as significant as the little ants crawling on the ground.
  All throughout the book Henry asks the same question over and over again: if you were given the chance to save the world, would you take it and why? For Henry, the answer is not an easy one. His life is in tatters in a town called Calypso where the flaws of the characters tether them down and prevent them from growing much like Odysseus and Calypso from Homer's epic The Odyssey. Henry's first love and boyfriend, Jessie, has committed suicide. His father left his home and some point to Henry's 'abductions' as a reason, his chain smoking, alcoholic mother is struggling to make ends meet while taking care of his dementia ridden grandmother. His older brother and fiance are expecting a child though neither of them are adults or capable of supporting themselves. On top of all this, Henry is bullied and used as a play toy for the closeted gay bully.
  It is hard to be Henry and be optimistic when there is so much negativity and sadness revolving around him. Henry blames himself for Jesse's death and further drives the nail in his self loathing coffin. I liked how Hutchinson uses Jesse as a symbol of Henry's self-worth because Jesse is the only person who made Henry feel loved and accept despite his quirks. Jesse was Henry's safety net, but when he is tragically ripped away due to Jesse's own mental health issues he helplessly watch Henry go in a similar downward spiral until he meets the charismatic Diego who shows up in town.
 Like Henry, Diego is also dealing with his own personal demons, which Hutchinson sprinkles throughout the story. Instead of turning to aliens to help him sort out the meaning of life, Diego uses art to express himself. I really appreciated that the book focuses on the friendship and connection between Henry and Diego while leaving the possibility of a romantic relationship open. Diego and Henry do not solve each others issues miraculously because they find each other, but they do form a supportive network that is immensely important. There is also Audrey, a mutual friend of Jesse and Henry, who gives us a more realistic account of Jesse instead of Henry's romanticized view of his boyfriend. Ultimately, we are all on the edge of our seats wondering if Henry does really have the freedom of choice he thinks he has or will push the button to save the world?
  We Are the Ants is an excellent novel that is much needed in our world that often seems uncaring and meaningless. Each character is complex, necessary, and most importantly true to life. There are both light and dark moments in the book much like real life. The novel is never didactic and perfect for readers who love character driven stories and it would make a fantastic book club discussion.

Some favorite quotes:

“Depression isn't a war you win. It's a battle you fight every day. You never stop, never get to rest.”
“We may not get to choose how we die, but we can chose how we live. The universe may forget us, but it doesn't matter. Because we are the ants, and we'll keep marching on.”
“Dreams are hopeful because they exist as pure possibility. Unlike memories, which are fossils, long dead and buried deep.” 
“We're not words, Henry, we're people.
Words are how others define us, but we can define ourselves any way we choose.” 
Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong language throughout the book, drug use and underage drinking, allusions to sex, and scenes of bullying. Recommended for Grade 9 and up.

If you like this book try: The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd, Someday this pain will be useful to you by Peter Cameron, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, and for similar writing style definitely check out Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
2 Responses
  1. Yay. I love this book, too, and think it has a good chance at a Printz Award. I still like The Passion of Dolssa a smidge better but I gave them both 5s, the only YA books of the year to earn full credit.

  2. Wow, this sounds so intense. I haven't read any of Vonnegut's books. Are you a fan? The red button reminds me of Doctor Who, where they talk a few times about how everything is easier with a big red button.

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