By: Danielle Brubaker
Upon finishing We Are The Ants, I stared in silence at my wall for a good half hour. I think that’s a sign of a good book: when there’s no space left in your head to think about anything other than how emotionally destroyed you are.
What a strange, dark, eerily insightful little book. We Are The Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson tells the story of sixteen-year-old Henry Denton. Henry grapples with the suicide of his boyfriend, a difficult home life, and the torment of his peers. But then things get very weird in a very inexplicable way. Aliens periodically abduct him, not that anyone believes him. Not only that, but they also place the fate of Earth in his confused, heartbroken, scrawny-teenage-boy hands. The aliens have a big red button. If Henry decides to press it, the world will be saved. If he doesn’t, the world will end on January 29th. He has six months to decide if the world is worth the effort.
It sounds like science fiction, but it really isn’t. The alien abductions are more of a subplot to the grander issue of Henry’s disillusionment with the world. The aliens are essentially a philosophical question manifested in the form of a big red button. Herein lies Henry’s struggle: does humanity deserve to be saved? It seems like a simple answer. Press the button, save the world. End of story.
However, Henry is an infinitely complex, emotionally unstable character, and he’s not so sure. He can’t seem to find a convincing reason to save humanity. The way he sees it, it might be a mercy to let it all end.
There’s a lot of darkness in We Are The Ants. Fatalistic, let’s-all-just-die, life-has-no-meaning kind of darkness. In the wrong hands, the story could be swallowed in angst and misery and end-of-the-world whining, but Hutchinson knows exactly how to stop it from falling to those depths: humor. Yes, Henry’s situation is very, very desolate, but his black humor about his own pain is perfect.
Henry’s fears are so relatable. Relatable. I hate that word. Rarely do I want a book to be relatable. I don’t want to read about myself, think about the things I already think about. No, I don’t want relatable; I want shiny, new, unorthodox. Anything but relatable. But the questions Henry has are so close to the ones I think we’ve all had at some point.
Henry struggles with complicated thoughts. The harsh realization that we mean nothing to a universe that means everything to us. How we should measure what sort of treatment we deserve. Are other people’s actions our fault, and does it even matter if the end result is the same anyway? We are responsible for who we are; it matters to us, to the people around us, but in the grand scope of the universe, we are forgotten. Even as we live, we are forgotten. The universe has never seen us because it doesn’t care. We are ants.
We Are The Ants has a lot to love. A completely original premise; a diverse cast of broken, honest characters; morbid humor; aliens; and the end of the world. And there’s a lot we can learn from Henry: how to reconcile a universe that doesn’t care about the fact that we care, why sometimes what we want isn’t good for us, and why the world might be worth saving after all.