We Are the Ants by Shaun Hutchinson: An Appraisal by Travis Crowder
Shaun Hutchinson’s novel is one of the most honest, heartfelt novels I have read for young adults in the past year. He captures the voice of a disenchanted teen so well that readers of all backgrounds will find familiarity in Henry Denton, the novel’s main character. For many years, Henry has been the victim of intermittent alien abductions, and during one of them, the aliens pose a challenge to him. He is presented with a red button, and if he pushes it, the world will be saved from total annihilation. If he chooses not to push it, the world (and his problems) will disintegrate. His struggles with identity, love, and bullying frame his desire to watch the world experience destruction, but is he willing to sacrifice the world for his own sake? Haven’t we all wanted to see the annihilation of the earth, and like Henry, avoid the proverbial red button? Can we see past ourselves to the breathtaking view beyond our selfish eyes? Every reader, I feel, will identify with Henry’s disillusionment, because at some point, everyone has felt distanced from the world, from society, from home. I loved this book because there was such honesty in the main character. His struggles were real; he was believable and unique. He sought for control of his life and for understanding beyond what life had offered him. This powerhouse of a book is beautiful, and you will find violence, uncertainty, philosophy, and romance housed within it.
I adored Hutchinson’s willingness to create a character whose uncertainty about life and search for meaning are authentic. They reflect the uncertainties and searches of humanity in its quest for personal understanding and identity in a world where everyone feels insignificant (ants, if you will). Coming-of-age is difficult, but this novel is a touchstone for anyone labeled different. We live in a time where diversity and difference are often neglected or overlooked, but Hutchinson builds an imaginative world where there is acceptance and love for the characters, even in the midst of conflict. At its core, the book is symbolic, but it offers such fresh, original ideas that I feel all types of readers will enjoy it.
Travis Crowder is a 7th grade language arts and social studies teacher at East Alexander Middle School in Hiddenite, NC. He loves reading and writing, and he is passionate about fusing both into his classes, and inspiring others to do the same. By nature, he is an introvert, but enjoys making new friends and discussing all things books!