Shaun David Hutchinson
We Are the Ants
There are a few things Henry Denton knows, and a few things he doesn’t.
Henry knows that his mom is struggling to keep the family together, and coping by chain-smoking cigarettes. He knows that his older brother is a college dropout with a pregnant girlfriend. He knows that he is slowly losing his grandmother to Alzheimer’s. And he knows that his boyfriend committed suicide last year.
What Henry doesn’t know is why the aliens chose to abduct him when he was thirteen, and he doesn’t know why they continue to steal him from his bed and take him aboard their ship. He doesn’t know why the world is going to end or why the aliens have offered him the opportunity to avert the impending disaster by pressing a big red button.
But they have. And they’ve only given him 144 days to make up his mind.
The question is whether Henry thinks the world is worth saving. That is, until he meets Diego Vega, an artist with a secret past who forces Henry to question his beliefs, his place in the universe, and whether any of it really matters. But before Henry can save the world, he’s got to figure out how to save himself, and the aliens haven’t given him a button for that.
"We're all gonna die," Sufjan Stevens croons in "Fourth of July". The song is actually talking about Stevens' mother who was in her deathbed. As they converse alternately in each stanza, they're talking about what living this life actually means. While the song is initially used as a peace truce between Stevens and her mother, "Fourth of July" is also a memento mori, a reminder that no matter how austere we are, we always surrender to death.
For Henry Denton, his memento mori is the aliens--which he calls sluggers--who abduct him and show him that world ends at January 29th, 2016. The date is so specific, the apocalypse is crystal clear. As he watches the earth explode and burn, he's given choice by the alien to press a red button or not. Contrary to popular meme, pressing the red button means saving the world for good. It should be an easy choice, but it's not for Henry Denton. His boyfriend just committed suicide, while his biggest bully is also a closeted guy who makes out with him, he breaks his friendship, his family struggles after his father left, and his grandmother's memory starts to crumble. It seems like that there's nothing good left for him in this world thus no reason to save the world. After all, we're all gonna die. Unluckily, the aliens give him three months to decide, but three months won't change anything, right? However, when Diego comes into his life, Henry starts to question whether his life is worth living for.
It looks really interesting on paper. At least from the blurb that I read, at least I believe I know what to expect from the book: an eschatologic sci-fi young adult novel. So, it's a normal thing that I expect I will get a lot of "alien and sci-fi". In fact, aside from the astronomical trivia (which is really nice to read, i have to admit), the alien is just used as a plot device that has no impact whatsoever to the plot. I mean, if you remove the alien part of the book, you can still get the same story. It seems like Hutchinson still tries to grasp what he wants to do with this book as proven by how many times he changes the concept of the book. But, Hutchinson definitely can write, I give you that. How he's able to capture the pain that a teenager must go through, how he describes things that Henry feels and sees, they're all bull's eye, and it's easy to imagine what kind of life Henry must live through every day. The atmosphere of the book is kind of bleak, but you can feel joy creeps in some of the pages, like crepuscular rays, before ending it with a vague, but sweet one.
We Are the Ants may be too vulgar for some people, but it is one good addition to the gay-lit young adult book that talks about the meaning of life.