Do you always end up with one of those weighing the scales reviews? List the pros? List the cons? It’s so difficult to do that without being wishy-washy.
There is a lot to like in Shaun David Hutchinson’s YA novel We Are the Ants. The story is about Henry Denton, a Florida high school student still getting over his boyfriend’s suicide. Henry lives with his single mother and his older brother. He is estranged from his best friend Audrey and sort of seeing the much more popular Marcus. Seeing is not really the right word. He and Marcus meet on the sly to fool around, but Marcus still makes fun of Henry in public, to keep up his straight boy status.
Enter a couple of aliens. The first aliens literally put Henry’s finger on the button. They abduct Henry every so often to do experiments on him and to ask if he wants to push the button. Pushing the button is the only thing that will save the world which is set to end on January 29. Henry alone has the power to push the button that will save everything. Does he want to push it?
The second “alien” is a boy named Diego Vega, who transfers into Henry’s school where he stirs things up both at school and in Henry’s life. The two fall hard when they fall in love.
We Are The Ants takes the form of Henry’s journal. Science buff Henry tells his story interspersed with theories about the various ways the earth could end. I liked this science side of the book. It reminded me of Paul Zindel’s The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds where the mutations produced by varying degrees of radiation stood as a metaphor for how the world affects people’s lives. Here the metaphor’s meaning is not quite so clear, but it was still effective. How will the world really end matters when your world has already figuratively ended the way Henry’s did when his boyfriend took his own life.
Mr. Hutchinson gets a lot right about relationships in We Are the Ants. I liked this line comparing Henry and Marcus to Henry and Diego: Making out with Marcus had always felt like a race to the finish line, but with Diego I felt like I’d already won. I think that’s very good, and I think I know what he means. For the most part when I as an adult reader had issues with the way the characters behaved, I still recognized that they were acting the way most teenagers probably would. It was a long time ago, but some things you never forget. Alas.
However, some things bothered me. First, both Henry and Diego have bad fathers. I know there are people who have bad fathers, but it’s such an over-used trope in YA literature, especially YA literature about LGBT characters, that it’s gotten very old at this point. Second, does Henry have to go from a boyfriend with suicidal depression to a boyfriend with anger issues brought on by severe child abuse? Third, while I know bullying is a real problem, Henry’s high school life began to border on Hana Yanigahira extremes.
I’m not going to say much about the abductions, just to avoid spoilers. I was more than willing to go along with them either being true or being simple in Henry’s head whatever they turned out to be in the end was fine with me, but I did find it a bit hard to believe that Henry could be absent for so long, days in some cases, without anyone putting him into psychiatric care right away. I don’t have any children, but I imagine if I had one who vanished for over 24 hours, I’d do something pretty extreme even if he did show up unharmed in the end.
Still, back to my metaphorical scale, even with all of the above issues, I liked the book. I enjoyed spending time with Henry and I was rooting for him throughout. I’m glad he came to a happy ending, too. And, in what I suppose is the ultimate test of whether or not a book has succeeded or failed, I would like to read more by Shaun David Hutchinson.