We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson, 2016
YA novel; science fiction, LGBT
Sixteen-year-old Henry Denton is Space Boy. He is regularly abducted by aliens he calls sluggers, and they have given him a choice. The world will end in 144 days, but he can stop it simply by pressing a button. But Henry isn’t sure he wants to save the world. It’s full of problems, like the fact that Henry’s boyfriend committed suicide, his grandmother is slowly losing her memories to Alzheimer’s, is brother is a college dropout and a father-to-be, and Henry has gotten himself into a secret and abusive relationship with a bully at school. Henry’s struggles to deal with his realistic problems are interspersed with references to his alien abductions and occasional short stories speculating about how the world will end.
This book is beautifully written and will appeal to a wide teen audience. I have to admit that I didn’t love it, though. For one thing, it had a bit more sexual content than I really like in a book. Besides that, I found it dark and gloomy without being emotional. I don’t mind a little gloom in a book, but in this case, I felt emotionally detached from the story. Maybe it’s because I was struggling to suspend my disbelief enough to accept the reality of the aliens in a world that was otherwise identical to the real world. So, in short, I’m not a huge fan of this book, but I understand that it has literary merit, and I can understand why it’s gotten so much attention.
The best part of We Are the Ants is the way it expresses Henry’s teenage angst and sense of the purposelessness of life. Not only is the language pleasantly quotable, but all of the major plotlines tie together to relate to Henry’s struggle with the question of whether life is worth living. His decision about whether or not to save the world, his difficulties coping with the loss of his boyfriend, his experience watching his grandmother deteriorate, and his feelings about his brother’s unborn child all play into that theme. And in the end, (spoiler alert) Henry decides that life does have value, after all. The book begins and ends with the metaphor of humans as ants, but that picture means something completely different by the end of the book than it does in the opening chapter.
Additional information for teachers and parents:
Lexile Score: HL800L
Guided Reading Level: Z
Other leveled reading information is not currently available. Please keep in mind that these scores are based on algorithms that do not take all possible factors into consideration. The Lexile score labels this as a “high-low” book, meaning that it is written at a lower reading level than the intended audience, making it ideal for reluctant readers. However, due to the length of this book (451 pages) and the relatively intellectual content, I would consider this book to advanced to count as a high-low book.