Have you ever read a book that was so beautifully written that you practically drank the words from the pages? A book with such beautiful prose that it stopped you in your tracks, causing you to contemplate the wordplay and taking you on tangents of inspiration as your mind pondered the endless possibilities those words created? A book that chases you to the last page only to leave you incapacitated as you read the final paragraph over and over, revelling in its perfection? I have and without a doubt, Shaun David Hutchinson’s We Are the Ants belongs to this most rare of book categories: the absolute gem.
We Are the Ants is the fourth young adult book by Shaun David Hutchinson, who hails from Florida, USA . I have it on high authority that the author is pretty damn cool and base my opinion entirely on his love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who and Misfits. If the words ‘young adult’ has your interest fading fast, know that We Are the Ants is not just any young adult book. Tired of generic dystopian books full of stereotypes and repetition, I joined the Mock Printz book club on Goodreads. The book club seeks out those books that are most likely to be nominated for the Printz award, an annual award for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature. We Are the Ants was the second book I read for the book club and boy, did it deliver.
We Are the Ants is about Henry, a boy left behind when his partner committed suicide and currently the victim of alien abductions. ‘Victim’ might not be the right word though; Henry has been given the opportunity to press a button to save the world from certain annihilation and he’s not quite sure if he can be bothered to do so. Revolving around Henry in ever-increasing levels of meaninglessness and insignificance to him are his oldest friends, his single mother, violent brother and a gang of school bullies. What is the point of saving the world if that is all he has left to contend with?
We Are the Ants is such a beautiful, complex book that it seems an impossible task to pass judgement on it. It is rare that an author will juggle so many heavy themes in a book at once – grief, bullying, sexuality, mental illness and teenage pregnancy to name a few – and not have the book collapse under the weight of them but somehow Hutchinson manages it with grace. This book could easily be classed as LGBT fiction but was fascinating in that the main character just is gay, this isn’t a plot device or central to the often dramatic outcomes in the story. What Hutchinson captures perfectly is nihilism and despair, grief and recovery.
If judged on literary worth alone, I’d definitely say the book is Printz worthy. There were entire paragraphs of wonderful prose and quotable quotes that I’ve saved and bookmarked.
On nature, technology and modern living:
“God surely meant for humans to live like that. He hadn’t intended for us to wither into desiccated husks in front of brightly lit screen that leeched away our summer days one meme at a time.”
On light, beauty and emptiness:
“How ugly we must look to them, spilling into every dark corner to push back the shadows, blinding ourselves to the true beauty of emptiness”.
Would I recommend We Are the Ants? Absolutely. I think everybody should read this book and once you’ve picked yourself up from the floor after the devastating last page, I’d recommend that you turn to the front and read it all over again. Shaun David Hutchinson has immediately become an author to look out for and I will be reading his other books now too. Based on this excellence alone, I give We Are the Ants a superb five out of five stars.