We are the Ants is a story about high school and first love. Its about depression and suicide. Its about survivor’s guilt and grief. Its about sexual identity and standing up for your true self.
Its also a story about being abducted by aliens and given a choice about whether or not the earth is worth saving.
Henry Denton lives in a small town in Florida with his overworked mom, his senile grandmother, and his pain in the ass older brother and his pregnant girlfriend. He’s still in mourning over the suicide of his boyfriend Jesse a year before, but is trying to move on by fooling around with another boy at school. He also has a tendency to be abducted by aliens.
On one of his visits to the alien ship, he’s given a choice: In about 150 days, the world is going to end. If he pushes the red button the aliens show him, he can prevent the apocalypse. But Henry just isn’t sure he wants to do that.
He’s had enough bullying. He’s had enough mourning. He’s had enough of watching his mother struggle to get past his father leaving years before. He’s had enough of seeing his grandmother lose more and more of her memories and herself. He’s not sure he thinks this troubled world is somewhere that his future niece/nephew should have to suffer through.
And so Henry doesn’t push the button when he’s given the option. But he thinks about it.
And then Henry meets Diego, and Diego gives Henry so much more to consider about the world.
I’m gonna go ahead and put this book up next to Exit, Pursued by a Bear and pretty much everything I’ve ready by Andrew Smith* (my Cannonball spirit animal) over the past few years as an example of a Young Adult book that gives us much more than its label would lead us to believe.
All of these books deal with serious life issues in a realistic way. Some good, lots of bad. these books have characters that are alive on the page, like real people you have come across in your lifetime — they talk and interact like actual human beings. These books scare me to death when I think about the fact that I’ll have a teenager in a few years, but I’m glad that I’ll have this small arsenal of books at my disposal when various problems arise.
The author did a wonderful job making these characters seem real. They talked like real people (although some of the Kardashian references might be stale in a few years). Not all of the characters were likable but they were all relatable — Marcus sucked but I felt bad for him all the same. Charlie had his moments but was somewhat horrible at the beginning.
And I loved how Diego’s sexuality wasn’t a huge thing for him to deal with. He loved Henry, and that was enough. He didn’t worry about how that labeled him. It reminded me of the very awesome wine scene in Schitt’s creek (WAIT. WHAT? You aren’t watching Schitt’s Creek? GO, AND GET THEE TO AMAZON PRIME!):
My favorite was Audrey, the former best friend of Jesse, and third angle in the triangle that was made up of Jesse and Henry before his suicide. Her pain and her loyalty were heartbreaking, and her use of sarcasm and humor was a delight. In particular, when she tried to explain to Henry that it was OK for him to have feelings for Diego:
“I don’t deserve him.”
Audrey shrugged. “Probably not. But he doesn’t deserve you, either. Maybe that’s why you’re perfect for each other…You like bacon, right?” Audrey asked.
“So, when you’re offered bacon for breakfast, do you refuse because you’re worried about what’s going to happen when it’s gone?”
“No!” Audrey smacked me in the chest. “You eat that bacon and you love it because it’s delicious. You don’t fret over whether you’ll ever have bacon again. You just eat the bacon….Eat the bacon, Henry.”
…”I’m assuming Diego is the bacon in that analogy.”
“I need another drink.”
*This book even has a lovely homage to one of my favorite Andrew Smith books, Grasshopper Jungle. In one of the possible scenarios that Henry imagines the world ending, he sees a world in which giant cockroaches are bred by a government scientist named Dr. Andrew Smith (!) and used to control super strains of bacteria. But not all goes as smoothly as envisioned:
On 29 January 2016 a pair of CroMS escape from a laboratory in Austin, Texas. They begin to breed. As a result of their increased size, CroMS possess a ravenous appetite and devour everything in their path…Austin is overrun in three days. Texas in two weeks. The United States in less than a year…When CroMS are the only living creatures remaining on the planet, they consume each other.
ENDING SPOILER ALERT! SERIOUSLY!
Remember a few years ago, when everyone was talking about The Life of Pi, and the vague ending? Where we were left to decide for ourselves which version of the story we wanted to believe? We Are the Ants reminded me of that, a little bit.
While we never know for sure if Henry’s abductions were a psychological creation or not, its up to us to decide how Henry’s future will be, or if he even gets to have one.
I think he does, and that in his case, it definitely gets better.
You can read all of my overzealous Andrew Smith reviews on my blog.