we are the ants - shaun david hutchinson
Henry Denton has spent years being periodically abducted by aliens. Then the aliens give him an ultimatum: The world will end in 144 days, and all Henry has to do to stop it is push a big red button.
Only he isn’t sure he wants to.
I found this book entirely by accident. I suppose you could say that in this way, the book found me.
The story follows Henry through his life, in the last 144 days before the world is meant to end. And Henry's life isn't the easiest. In fact, it's far from it. His mother works a dead-end job, even though she has higher ambitions and talent. His grandmother is slowly succumbing to Alzheimer's. His brother got someone pregnant, and now has to figure out a way to build a life with his partner. His friends have abandoned him, and his boyfriend committed suicide the last year.
This book does not back down from tough subject matter such as abuse, extreme bullying, the after-effects of a death on a community, and the realities of living as a working-class family. I will say immediately that it is not an easy book to read if any of the above trigger you. The bullying Henry suffers is horrific. It is physical and verbal, it is enough to bring him to tears and nausea, and it follows him wherever he goes. The reality of its effects on him do not get ignored or sidelined, they are a vital part of his character and the way he goes through life. It's rare to find a book that does this.
This book also uses an incredible metaphor of escapism, power, and fear. It reminded me a little - because of this - of things like Pan's Labyrinth. A young person escaping into their mind, into their dreams, away from things that are too difficult to immediately deal with. It is never made clear what "actually" happened with Henry and the sluggers (as he calls the aliens), and I think that's the point. It means different things to different people. It touches people as they need to be touched.
This is a book that I was crying agonizing tears in for the last few chapters. I can't even explain what it was that struck me so hard. A lot of what Henry goes through are things I have gone through, are things I go through now, are things that I fear desperately. Watching Henry go through these things was cathartic, and extraordinarily powerful. It's been a long time since a book has touched me this way.
I would recommend this book to everyone, but warn that the subject matter is tough and it will hit you hard. With that in mind, please take the plunge. Do not let this book pass you by.