We Are the Ants, by Shaun David Hutchinson

We Are the AntsHenry Denton’s boyfriend committed suicide last year, and he cannot heal his heart. Nothing else in his life is sunshiny, either. His single mother, a talented cook, is working slavishly as a waitress while smoking herself to death. His older brother never even finished high school, but he has just announced that his pregnant girlfriend is moving into their crowded house, and his beloved Nana is being slowly unwound by Alzheimer’s.

So, when the aliens pick Henry up and give him the power to save the earth from assured destruction, he just can’t think of a good reason to push the red button. They continue to abduct him randomly, dumping him back on earth in nothing but his underwear after yet another unsuccessful attempt to spare the planet. If this continues, the earth will be destroyed on January 29, 2016. Every few chapters, another possible scenario plays out before our eyes.

Henry made the painful mistake of telling one of the boys at school about the aliens, and ever since then, he is taunted with “Space Boy” in the halls, beaten up, and worse. Diego Vega, the new kid, is the only one who believes Henry—or at least he pretends to. Diego has just broken up with his girlfriend, and he lives alone with his sister. He is gorgeous, friendly, artistic, ultra-cool, and obviously hiding something about his past.

I was heading to a convention last week when a sponsor told me that Shaun David Hutchinson would be one of the authors speaking at the luncheon. I grabbed my galley of We Are the Ants and started reading on the plane. I was about halfway through when I met Shaun, and we shared our sorrow over the effects of Alzheimer’s on the people we loved: my father, his grandmother. Nana in the book is his real Nana, and I told him how one passage in particular had moved me to tears. He is a fine writer but completely unpretentious and friendly, and the book reflects some of his life experiences in high school as a gay teen. Probably not the alien abductions, though. We Are the Ants has garnered five starred critical reviews, which is very rare. You can look for this one to show up in the buzz again next year when the awards are given out.

Moving, gut-wrenching, and fun, this novel will keep your attention right up to the excellent ending. I’m not tellin’. The language is fairly dreadful, as is typical for YA boy stories, and other cautions for sensitive readers are obvious and well-deserved. There is nothing delicate about this story. There is nothing predictable about the plot, either. You’ll just have to come along for the ride to find out what Henry does about that red button.

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Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else. The brilliant phrase describing dementia as “being slowly unwound” is Mr. Hutchinson’s, not mine.

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