Review: We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: We Are the Ants by Shaun David HutchinsonWe Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
Published by Simon Pulse on January 19, 2016
Genres: Science Fiction, Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 455
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
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four-stars

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.

Though I’ve heard some great things about Shaun David Hutchinson’s novels, none of them really spoke to me. The descriptions sounded like they might be a bit too heavy and dudely. Nothing about them screamed or even whispered Christina book. We Are the Ants, though, sounded up my alley. I mean, hello, m/m romance with bonus aliens? SIGN. ME. UP. Also, the cover is really pretty which is ninety percent why I wanted it totally did not impact my decision in anyway. We Are the Ants was my first Hutchinson novel, but it won’t be my last, because of his sensitive, honest treatment of mental illness and family.

You know how I said Hutchinson’s books seemed like they might be too heavy? Well, in some ways, I was right on the money, because this book is heavy. However, it’s not TOO heavy. Hutchinson includes enough black humor and some genuinely happy scenes, enough that I was able to take the dark parts and actually to feel them much more. I’m very particular about how I want “issue” books, and Hutchinson hit it right on the mark. That said, it was sometimes tough to read because oh my god poor Henry.

Henry Denton is falling apart big time. He’s been abducted by the Sluggers, some sort of alien life form, since he was thirteen, and they want him to determine if the world will end on January 29th. And, just to be dicks, they return him in inconvenient places, often without clothing. After his first abduction, his dad abandoned the family, and Henry’s sure that it’s his fault. His brother, Charlie, bullies him at home. His mom struggles to pay their bills solo on her waitressing salary. His beloved boyfriend Jesse killed himself, and, again, Henry’s sure it’s his fault—for not loving him enough or for loving him too much or for just not being enough. After Jesse’s suicide, Henry kept his distance from Audrey, the third in their trio. The only comfort in Henry’s life? Sex with one of his bullies, Marcus.

Marcus spends the whole book deciding whether he wants to let the world end; all he would have to do to stop it is press a button, but he’s not sure he wants to. He keeps asking everyone he knows if they would save the world, and almost all say that they would, but Henry’s not so sure. Here, I think Hutchinson really gets the teen mind, because, as much as Henry looks around and goes “yeah, I don’t think we deserve to live,” it’s clearly all about Henry not wanting to have to deal with the future. School’s easier if you don’t need to care about your grades because the world’s going to end. He doesn’t need to worry about his mom’s troubles, his grandma’s dementia, or the fact that his asshole brother has knocked up his girlfriend. Henry doesn’t know how to handle his life and not pushing the button means he doesn’t have to. My teen life wasn’t as messed up as Henry’s, and I still would have hesitated, I’m pretty certain, because everything can feel so insurmountable.

Henry’s relationship with Marcus in We Are the Ants is great, in a really terrible way. I mean, it’s completely unhealthy, but it’s realistic and raw. Henry couldn’t cope with Jesse’s death, and Marcus was someone he wouldn’t fall in love with but could get that physical pleasure from. It all sort of backfires when he ends up having some feelings for Marcus, who can be a nice guy when he stops worrying about what other people are thinking. I also really liked that gay sex is mentioned, because often the sex part of m/m teen isn’t touched at all. View Spoiler »

The family dynamics are strong and atypical. Henry’s mom is not at all a stereotypical mother. She loves her kids, and she’s involved, but she also has a tendency to put her head in the sand about some things because she doesn’t know how to deal with them. Hmmm, I wonder where Henry got that. She also smokes like a chimney and isn’t loving in any sort of June Cleaver kind of way. His mom’s kind of brash, but that’s how some people are. She’s not an amazing mom, but she tries to do her best by her kids. I also love the portrayal of the grandmother, as her memory disintegrates, the high moments and the lows, and the tough decision about whether to put her in a home.

The burgeoning romance between Henry and Diego is sweet but also kind of fucked up. It’s vaguely a spoiler that Diego’s into dudes despite an ex-girlfriend, but come on we all saw that coming (and, yes, I love that). I do sort of ship it, in the sense that Henry clearly needs something better than Marcus, and their feelings for each other are real, but they’re also both too broken to really work at this point. I like, though, that they are at least aware of that. It’s not an HEA kind of book, so that works.

The thing that worked least for me actually ended up being the sci fi element. You’ll see that I’ve tagged this as both contemporary and science fiction. It’s definitely more of a contemporary, sort of in the style of Noggin by John Corey Whaley, where the science fiction is central to the concept but not what the book is actually about at all. In this case, though, I wish Hutchinson had dived into the science fiction a bit more. He sort of straddles the line between the aliens being real and being a creation of Henry’s mind as a way of processing his grief. That would be completely fine if I could believe that the latter were the case,  but Henry was first abducted before his first mental trigger (his dad leaving the family) and there’s a lot that’s hard to explain away if he wasn’t actually being abducted. Thus, I find the abandoning of the sci fi plot line at the end deeply frustrating. I mean, it all ends up being written in his school assignment, but I hate the idea that it was all fictional even more, especially since the bully, a main theme of the book, happens because he’s space boy. It’s all too deeply intertwined to not get resolved.

Someday when you’re in the mood for something that will punch you in the feels, give We Are the Ants a go. It’s complex, dark, and heartrending, but also hopeful.

Favorite Quote:

“So, when you’re offered bacon for breakfast, do you refuse because you’re worried about what’s going to happen when it’s gone?”

“No.”

“No!” Audrey smacked me in the chest. “You eat that bacon and you love it because it’s delicious. You don’t fret over whether you’ll ever have bacon again. You just eat the bacon.” Audrey stood in front of me and held my face between her hands. Her expression was so solemn that it was difficult not to laugh. “Eat the bacon, Henry.”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 gif there is so much pain perks

One response to “Review: We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson”

  1. I’m totally with you on this! I loved this book and didn’t really think about some of the more problematic things you brought up (at least in terms of the relationship with Diego / the sci-fi element being somewhat in the background). I definitely recommended it to people even if they were scared off by the alien thing. I think that it reads so much like a contemporary that all contemp lovers would enjoy it. Great review 🙂 Mine, oddly enough, posted today as well! haha I read it a few months ago.
    Lauren @ Bookmark Lit recently posted…Review: We Are the AntsMy Profile

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