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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1064

Author: Shaun David Hutchinson

First published: 2016

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Coming-of-age drama; Science fiction

Time of plot: 2015–16

Locale: Calypso, Florida

Principal characters

Henry Denton, a gay high school student who is regularly abducted by aliens

Diego Vega, his current love interest

Marcus McCoy ...

(The entire section contains 1064 words.)

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Author: Shaun David Hutchinson

First published: 2016

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Coming-of-age drama; Science fiction

Time of plot: 2015–16

Locale: Calypso, Florida

Principal characters

Henry Denton, a gay high school student who is regularly abducted by aliens

Diego Vega, his current love interest

Marcus McCoy, his classmate who alternately torments and seduces him

Jesse Franklin, his former boyfriend who committed suicide

Audrey Dorn, his friend

Eleanor Denton, his mother

Nana, his grandmother

Charlie Denton, his brother

Zooey Hawthorne, Charlie's pregnant girlfriend

The Story

Henry Denton's life might be that of a typical gay high school student living with an overworked single mother and a hostile older brother were it not for the fact that he has been abducted by aliens on a regular basis since age thirteen. As the story opens in September 2015, the creatures, whom Henry has dubbed "the sluggers," tell him that he must decide whether to save Earth by pushing a button on their spaceship before January 29, 2016. They do not, however, divulge why they have chosen Henry to make this momentous decision nor how the world will end. Since Henry is still grieving his boyfriend Jesse's suicide, and several bullies at school torment him by calling him "Space Boy" and mocking the fact that he is gay, he is convinced that life is pointless and therefore has no intention of saving Earth. Henry's self-loathing is multilayered: He is disgusted with himself for allowing Marcus, one of his tormentors, to occasionally seduce him; he believes Jesse committed suicide because he found Henry lacking as a boyfriend; and he feels responsible for his father abandoning the family shortly after his first abduction.Courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Unexpectedly, Henry finds a new interest in life when a transfer student named Diego Vega arrives at his school. Henry enjoys Diego's company and finds him attractive, but he does not see the point of starting another romantic relationship, especially since the world will soon end. In spite of Henry's reticence, however, Diego acts as a catalyst in Henry's life. In particular, Diego helps mend the rift between Henry and his former friend Audrey, facilitating their much-needed discussions about the anger, grief, and guilt they share in the wake of Jesse's suicide. Diego even helps Henry's family become closer, in part by revealing the circumstances that led to Diego's recent incarceration in a juvenile detention center. Through his painting, Diego also expresses his love for and the value he sees in Henry. Both boys find the relationship frustrating, however, because Henry cannot convince himself he is worthy of Diego's love.

Meanwhile, the bullies continue to escalate their harassment of Henry, brutally attacking him in the showers at school and humiliating him online, but Henry refuses to identify them. Shortly after his brother Charlie and Charlie's girlfriend Zooey lose their unborn child, Henry attends a school carnival and is caught off guard by Marcus behind the deserted bleachers near the football field. When Henry refuses Marcus's advances, Marcus beats and attempts to rape Henry. Infuriated, Diego assaults Marcus even though it means risking a return to juvenile detention, but he is happy that Henry is finally willing to openly confront his attackers. During Henry's recovery in the hospital, he finally admits that he is seriously depressed and begins to get the help he needs. On January 28, the night before the sluggers' imposed deadline, Henry realizes he does not want the world to end after all, and he acknowledges that life has meaning.

Critical Evaluation

Written primarily as a personal journal that Henry turns into an extra credit project, We Are the Ants details 144 days of Henry's life, interspersed with short sections speculating about the many ways that the sluggers' doomsday prediction could come true. Much of Henry's day-to-day life during this time period is grim, particularly the many incidents in which he is bullied. Rather than portray this as a simple issue, however, the author, Shaun David Hutchinson, effectively conveys Henry's mixed feelings about his tormentor Marcus, as well as Diego and Audrey's frustration at Henry's initial unwillingness to press charges against his attackers.

One of this novel's most effective devices is the way in which Henry surveys his friends and family to find out if they would save the world if presented with the same choice he has been given. Every character says that they would for different reasons, thus allowing Henry to piece together some of the meaning that people find in their lives even when things are not going well. Interestingly, the author does not actually confirm whether the sluggers are real nor whether Henry manages to convince them to save the world even though he does not get a last opportunity to push the button. This oblique approach, which suggests that Henry has either imagined the abductions or deliberately created them as a metaphor within his extra credit project, effectively allows the book to remain focused on Henry's state of mind rather than getting caught up in details surrounding the aliens.

Some readers might argue that this novel tackles too many issues by dealing with teenage homosexuality, bullying, parental abandonment, suicide, guilt, clinical depression, unfulfilled dreams, domestic violence, anger control issues, and Alzheimer's disease. Impressively, however, the author manages to treat all of these issues in a thoughtful and complex manner. The author even includes meaningful discussions about what it means to Charlie and Zooey to expect a child when they feel woefully underprepared; how there may never be any satisfactory answers when a loved one kills themselves; how dementia affects multiple generations within a family; and why victims of bullying sometimes protect their attackers. This richness sets the book apart from other young-adult novels by reflecting the inherent complexity of life in a meaningful and intriguing way.

Further Reading

  • Cart, Michael. Review of We Are the Ants, by Shaun David Hutchinson. Booklist, 1 Oct. 2015, p. 76. Literary Reference Center, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=110199467&site=lrc-live. Accessed 13 Mar. 2017.
  • Review of We Are the Ants, by Shaun David Hutchinson. Kirkus, 1 Oct. 2015, p. 124. Literary Reference Center, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=110006605&site=lrc-live. Accessed 13 Mar. 2017.
  • Review of We Are the Ants, by Shaun David Hutchinson. Publishers Weekly, 7 Dec. 2016, pp. 105–6. Literary Reference Center, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=119833081&site=lrc-live. Accessed 13 Mar. 2017.
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