In our new installment feature, we ask you: Why Haven’t You Read? We ask you this in hopes of finding out more about a book that we’ve read that we love. Typically, these books aren’t getting as much love as we think they should, so we give them a signal boost and hopefully get more people to read it and review it.
Our first feature is none other than Jupiter, Florida’s Shaun David Hutchinson’s glorious 2016 release, We Are The Ants.
From the book flap:
| 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.
We are the Ants is contemporary YA. In it, Hutchinson explores what is means to want to live, truly live, and not be trapped by your past or in the anxiety of the future. It struggles to define what is means to be a survivor and how to allow yourself to be loved and allow good, positive light back into your life after a prolonged period of darkness. Our protagonist, Henry Denton, is an average boy struggling to find his way in this world.
“This is my life: a parade of humiliation and suffering. Before Jesse, I could deal with being SpaceBoy. He knew about the abductions but never made me feel like a freak. Before Jesse, I knew that no matter what happened to me I could soldier on so long as we were together. But I’m living in an after-Jesse world where I ache from missing him and nothing makes sense. My boyfriend and best friend both abandoned me. Marcus was using me for sex. I’m a punchline at school. A ghost at home.”
Abductions? I thought you said this was contemporary YA? Well, while Henry is dealing with his very real and personal problems, he is also dealing with aliens that keep abducting him and asking him to save the world by pressing a button. Not convinced the world is worth saving, Henry delves deeper into his life in hopes of finding a reason to ‘press the button.’
“Dreams are hopeful because they exist as pure possibility. Unlike memories, which are fossils, long dead and buried deep.”
An exploration of mental illness, dementia, friendship, love, loss, and even teen pregnancy, each of Henry’s interactions are delicately wrapped in Hutchinson’s lyrical and beautiful prose.
“Grief is an ocean, and guilt the undertow that pulls me beneath the waves and drowns me.”
Can Henry accept himself, his life, and feel worthy of love and goodness in his life?
“The universe may forget us, but our light will brighten the darkness for eons after we’ve departed this world. The universe may forget us, but it can’t forget us until we’re gone, and we’re still here, our futures still unwritten.
We can choose to sit on our asses and wait for the end, or we can live right now. We can march to the edge of the void and scream in defiance. Yell out for all to hear that we do matter. That we are still here, living our absurd, bullshit lives, and nothing can take that away from us. Not rogue comets, not black holes, not the heat death of the universe. We may not get to choose how we die, but we can choose how we live.”
Or will he drown in a sea of his making?
“I was diamond on the outside, and I would not break. Inside, though, I was already broken.”
Written in a very real and personal language, with hints of sci-fi thrown in, you will find all these answers and more in Hutchinson’s stunning We Are The Ants. Be prepared for an achingly long book hangover when you’re done.
On a slightly related matter, we had the privilege of meeting Shaun at ALA last month. Check out our recap post!