Monday, October 31, 2016

We Are The Ants. Also, We Overthink Things. And We Are a Tiny Bit Pretentious.

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

Published 2016 by Simon Pulse

455 pages, magical realism.

Simo & Schuster's teen brand and website, Riveted, regularly offers free downloads of new (and some backlist) books.  I don't usually read e-books, but it's hard to pass up something that is free, simple, and gives me access to new releases that I'd have to wait for at the library.  They're currently running a fundraiser readathon, #WeAreHuman.  You read books around GLBQT themes, they donate money to the It Gets Better project.  How awesome is that?  (Spoiler: Pretty damn awesome.)  So I downloaded one of the books and read it.

We Are the Ants tells the story of Henry, a teenaged boy mourning the death-by-suicide of his first boyfriend, and also dealing with being periodically abducted by aliens.  Plus, his family life is a mess, and he's the victim of relentless and intense bullying, because nobody believes he actually is being abducted by aliens; they just think he's weird.  When the aliens let him know that the world will end in a few months unless he pushes a big red button, he is undecided on the best choice.

These are the bookshelves I added the book to after I finished it.

See that first one?  Didn't live up to premise.  The book is wonderfully weird, and I kind of love the intermittent short stories about how the world might end.  The idea is just so out there, and the characters were easy to get invested in, whether loving or hating them.  Henry's situation is complex. (And huge kudos for writing a gay protagonist with a bi love interest without making it a coming out story.)  BUT.  There was a lot that frustrated me about this book, which kept it from being as great as it could have been.

Let's talk about Henry's brother Charlie.  Charlie is heinous.  Charlie is a horrible human being.  Then Charlie gets his girlfriend pregnant, and all of a sudden, Charlie's not that bad after all.  Charlie actually loves Henry.  And his girlfriend.  Charlie's going to make a great dad.

WHAT?!?  NO!!! Charlie is an ASSHOLE.  He is really, really nasty.  He is violent, cruel, and arrogant.  I just did not buy that he had redeeming characteristics, or that he changed.  Marcus is a more complex antagonist, and I felt some sympathy for him, some hope he would get his head out of his ass and become a decent human being at some point.  But Charlie didn't have a single glimmer of humanity until we started getting TOLD (not shown) that he was different now.

But Charlie's just a secondary character.  What about our hero, Henry?  Well, Henry spends the entire fucking book blaming himself for his boyfriend's suicide, with occasional forays into blaming others. Has Henry read a single thing about depression?  Has anyone ever mentioned to him, casually and in passing, that suicide is caused by a depressed person's brain, not by outside forces?  I can completely understand why he starts the book out looking for someone to blame and full of self loathing for not realizing how much pain his beloved was in.  But for crying out loud, he moans about it constantly, and hardly anyone takes the time to walk him through a reality check.  And when they sort of try to, he tunes them out.  "NO, NO, NO.  IT'S ALL MY FAULT.  I SUCK."  It gets really frustrating.

Reading on my laptop, I had no idea how far into the book I was at any point, but it seemed to go on and on and on.  Henry was spinning his wheels.  It's my fault.  It's your fault.  Nothing matters.  Nobody should love me.  I want the world to end.  It's my fault.  It's your fault... So when I finished the book and went to Goodreads, I was mildly relieved to see it was 455 pages long.  No wonder it felt like it was unending.  But really, how much of that could have been cut?  Henry is conflicted, we get it.

I'm not sure what I think about the sheer number of subplots, which probably also added to the book's length.  Will Henry's mom quit smoking and find a job she likes?  Will Henry's grandma burn the house down before they put her in a care home?  Will the closeted bully redeem himself?  What secrets are being hidden by the new boy in town?  Why DOES Charlie's girlfriend like him so much? Why am I supposed to care so deeply about the science teacher?  Why do so many chapters start with a textbook-dry lecture on astronomy?

It pretty much sounds like I hated this book, but I didn't.  As I mentioned earlier, there was a lot to like.  I was just so frustrated that the beautiful core of the book got buried under so much other nonsense.

3/5 stars


  1. I had a mouthful of coffee when I came across the title of your post and about spit it all over the screen. Seriously - so funny! The complete 180 with Charlie's character would drive me CRAZY and all the angst-ing with Henry would give me a headache from rolling my eyes too much. I love the wonderfully weird but the sheer number of subplots along with my already being annoyed by Charlie and Henry is probably a sign that I should skip this one! I will keep an eye out for the author though because it does sound like there's a lot of potential there.

  2. There’s a website that has free books? I need to check that out. I considered reading this one, but I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews, so it was never high on my priority list. It sounds like the characters have a lot of teenage angst. I sometimes get frustrated with that.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  3. Hello there! Do you use Twitter? I'd like to follow you if that would be ok.
    I'm absolutely enjoying your blog and look forward to new updates.


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