There's not much Henry has to live for. His boyfriend killed himself last year. He is mercilessly mocked at school. His grandma is deteriorating from Alzheimer. His dad has left his family. His brother is a giant screw up. His mom has her head in the sand. And aliens abduct him on a regular basis. During one abduction, the aliens show Henry that the world will end in 144 days, but he can prevent it if he pushed a big red button on their space ship. The oddest thing is, though, Henry can't think of one good reason the world shouldn't end.
I found this book at an adorable independent bookstore on a weekend trip to Richmond, Virginia in 2016. I was really drawn in by the cover. It was beautiful and very strange. Then I read the title and that was even stranger. Then I read the summary and realized it was about a gay kid, who gets abducted by aliens, and has to decide if he's going to participate in the end of the world or not. So I knew I had to read it and I finally had a chance this week.
The plot of this book is not quite as heavy as the summary makes it seem. There's a definite plot and its compelling and wondering if Henry was or wasn't going to push the button and save the world, despite his numerous assurances that he was going to let the world end, really pulled me forward. I had a hard time setting this book down and I couldn't want to pick it back up again as soon as I could. But, the plot is really in the background. I feel like more than most Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy novels I read, this book was driven by Henry more than anything. With every chapter I learned more about him and he developed into more of a rounded character. It was a beautiful character study that I loved being able to watch. The plot is there to pull you along, but you really stay for Henry.
Hutchinson's language in this book makes me jealous as a writer. He's equal parts eloquent and sarcastic, somehow making profound statements and ending them with "or whatever." He manages to describe mundane things, like a poorly packed lunch, in such vivid detail that I can't decide if I'm disgusted or starving. Likewise, his descriptions of the indescribable, such as the alien beings Henry has named "sluggers" is mysterious but not in a vague way. It simply sets the tone for the confusion and wonder Henry has at his unlikely frenemies from another planet.
Henry is a fascinating character. In addition to his moral dilemma, which he is positive is no dilemma for him despite the fact that he brings it up on every other page, he is also still struggle to figure out who he is and what role he plays in the world and the universe. He alternates between wondering why he is responsible for all of man-kind and assuring himself that he plays absolutely no role in the world as a hole. He's merely one ant on its surface. It's really the growth that Henry shows throughout this book that makes him the most interesting to me though. He learns to laugh, learns to love others again and learns to forgive himself. It's a beautiful journey and one that I think many teenagers would benefit from experiencing.
If you love John Green and Douglas Adams, you need to read We Are The Ants. The book is equal parts ridiculous and heartbreaking, laughable and moving, absurd and beautiful. The main character, Henry, is the perfect narrator and protagonist. He can be maddening but relatable. Don't expect a plot heavy book, but allow yourself to swept up in the development of Henry. Hutchinson's language will pull you into this novel and drag you through until you come out the other side, exhausted and amazed.