Queer Book Club: We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

We Are the Ants cover

We Are the Ants is a hybrid YA novel, with elements of sci-fi, coming of age and romance thrown in. Henry is struggling at home—his mum hasn’t coped since his dad left, his brother bullies him, and he’s losing his grandmother to Alzheimer’s. He watches his fellow students drive around in flash cars, while his family just struggle to get by. And he lost his boyfriend to suicide. But on top of all that, he’s regularly kidnapped by slug-like aliens, who now want him to decide whether the Earth will end. Thanks to his brother telling everyone in school about the abductions, his fellow students call him Space Boy, and bully him mercilessly. Henry isn’t really sure whether the Earth is worth saving.

Despite the pretty out there premise of the alien abductions, We Are the Ants is mostly a high school coming of age story. It’s pretty dark and brutal at times, more so than average. Henry is dealing with a lot of things, and has an understandably bleak outlook on life. His voice is really distinctive, veering from alienated distance to dark humour. The voice was really the first thing to grab me about the novel. Henry definitely serves up a whole heap of existential angst along the way, as he tries to negotiate his increasingly desperate life, and feelings of self-loathing. There were a few shocks in the story, as Henry punishes himself for his perceived failings with his late boyfriend, or is punished by others or by circumstance. When a new student, Diego Vega, befriends him, he’s really in no state to embark on a new relationship.

There’s a lot going on in this novel, and Hutchinson does justice to the varied complex issues covered, particularly the family’s financial hardship and the various problems that arise from that. There’s really no let up for Henry. (Trigger warnings for bullying, sexual assault and attempted rape.)

It’s a good book. But I was a little disappointed in the ending. It didn’t quite satisfy as a pay-off to all that angst and trauma. And not because it wasn’t a happy ending. It just had too much ambiguity for me, given the novel set-up. However, even given the ending (which I don’t want to spoiler), We Are the Ants is definitely worth a look.

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