We are the Ants
Shaun David Hutchinson
Simon & Schuster, 2016 451 pgs
If you had the opportunity to save the world from certain destruction, would you? This is the dilemma facing Henry. Henry's life is not easy. He is still reeling from the sadness, anger, and guilt associated with the suicide of his boyfriend the previous year. His family is not much help. Dad has long abandoned the family, Mom is "checked out" and escaping her trouble with wine and cigarettes, nasty older brother has impregnated his girlfriend and moved her into the family home, and Grandma's Alzheimer's is advancing. On top of these problems, Henry has no friends and is constantly bullied in school. Even worse: one member of the gang of bullies is his secret sometimes "hook-up". The bullies call him "Space Boy" because he is regularly kidnapped by aliens and deposited back to Earth wearing only his underwear with hazy recollections of what happened. The aliens have assigned Henry the task of deciding whether or not to save the world. Enter new student, Diego, who is super cute, has an infectious personality, an amazing artistic ability, and harbors dark secrets of his own. Henry and Diego form a friendship, which evolves into romance. Both boys are trying to come to terms with the heartache of their past, which makes forging new bonds difficult. Meanwhile, the year marches on with family members gradually changing and facing challenges of their own and Henry gradually comes to terms with some of his losses and starts to learn to love himself. The deadline approaches and Henry finally has to decide: will he press the button to save the Earth?
This is a great book. It reminded me a bit of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, as well as The Marbury Lens, a book that continues to haunt me, though a little less dark. Henry is a sad person dealing with lack of confidence, grief, rejection, and bullying. We are unsure if he is a reliable narrator. Is Henry really kidnapped by aliens or is he having a psychotic episode? Hutchinson leaves the ending ambiguous, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions. We never find out if the world ends, which usually would bother me, but as Henry states, "Honestly, it doesn't Matter". This story is more about the journey and Henry's learning to allow himself to be happy and finding self-love and acceptance. The bullying Henry endures is pretty terrible, especially since one of the bullies is a boy he is romantically involved with. There is consequences to the bullying, which will have readers breathing a sigh of relief and Henry manages to find peace in this situation. Diego is an awesome character and it is impossible not to root for both him and for the relationship. Henry also reconnects with a former best friend, a character who remains a bit undeveloped, but since Henry is in a state of self-absorption, this may be merely his perception of her. The book is written in the first person, which allows us to really get into Henry's head and see first hand his mental anguish and the transition to affirming life. Many of the adult characters are flawed, but there is an awesome teacher character who makes a positive impact on Henry's journey and once they find out about it, the other adults take the bullying very seriously. In our present youth culture, where teen suicide is on the rise, this is an important book and one that will prove popular with young readers.