I have always wondered what it would be like to be so far down the rabbit hole of love that you don’t need to doubt it. I’ll admit it; I’ve never been in love. Not proper love, not the kind where you fall asleep at night assured that love is going to be there in the morning. I’ve also wondered what it would be like to be abducted by aliens and told I’m the deciding factor for whether the world ends or not.
This is what happens to Henry Denton in Shaun David Hutchinson’s We Are the Ants.
Henry lives with his mother, his brother Charlie and his Alzheimer’s stricken grandma in Florida. He and Charlie’s father split years ago and they haven’t heard or seen him since. Charlie’s kind of an asshole, but not in the regular way older brothers are assholes to their siblings. His treatment of Henry verges on physical abuse. Charlie’s flunked out of college and gotten his girlfriend Zooey pregnant. Zooey is pretty cool and an amazing influence on Charlie. Think “You make me want to be a better man.” Their mother is an exhausted waitress who chain-smokes while trying to keep her world together. Grandma is slowly losing the thread of the story.
And Henry keeps getting abducted by aliens. It’s been happening for years, ever since he was little but nobody believes him. He calls the aliens sluggers because they look like, well….slugs. They aren’t big on communication and ‘talk’ to Henry by gesturing at pictures. Fortunately, they’re not big on anal probing. They usually drop him off miles from home either naked or in his underwear. Aliens either have a wicked sense of humor or the idea of pants is ridiculous to them.
They do, however, want him to make the biggest decision of not only his life but the entire planet’s life: push a giant red button and the world continues, don’t push it and life ends. They give him 144 days to make the decision. The world as we know it will end on January 29, 2016 at 20:03 GMT. Most people would automatically say “I’m pushing the button because I want humanity to continue to thrive. There’s so much living to do. There might be a cure for cancer or stupidity out there. I can’t end the world.” I fall somewhere in the middle: “Meh, I might not push the button and let this ridiculous world keep going or I might push it and let’s all get on with the afterlife.” Then again, I can’t make a decision to save my life. Don’t ask me what time I want to go to lunch because I’ll freeze and blurt out “1964!”
But Henry seems to have a very good reason to want the world to end. His boyfriend, Jesse, killed himself last year and left no note, no reason explaining why he did it. What hurts almost as much is that Henry also lost his best friend Audrey who completed their trio. He won’t speak to her even though she tries to become his friend again. She has her own demons to deal with and a secret she’s not about to admit to anyone.
Henry is unpopular at school, his nickname being Space Boy because everyone thinks he’s nuts for saying he’s constantly getting abducted by aliens. Uber popular Marcus is a jock and a bully and secretly in the closet. When others are around, he mercilessly picks on Henry but when they’re alone he acts like he wants to be with him. And why does Henry allow it? Because in a weird way, he thinks he needs to be punished. His boyfriend killed himself and he thinks maybe it was his fault. How many of us have done THE stupidest things because we thought we didn’t deserve any better? Did you see how fast my hand went up? I think I broke the sound barrier.
Henry’s life is a mess and now, Diego Vega moves to town and Henry starts to wonder, does he deserve to love and be loved again? What’s Diego’s story? What happened in Colorado that forced him to move to Florida? Is Diego even gay? Why does Henry have all these feelings? Is he being disloyal to the memory of Jesse?
As if being a teenager wasn’t hard enough, Henry is constantly getting abducted by impatient aliens who want him to decide if the world should continue or if it should end. When I was 16 my hardest decision was Cocoa Puffs or Lucky Charms for breakfast. Okay. That actually is still my hardest decision some days and I’m now almost 40. Oh man. Now I want some Lucky Charms. Where was I? Oh yeah. It’s the end of the world as we know it. Do I have to pay REM for using those lyrics? Only if I earn money with this blog post? Oh, okay. Don’t worry. That’s not going to happen.
So what should Henry do? Push the button because he believes in love and life and the future? Or ignore the button because humanity is doomed to misery and he’s doing everyone a favor by letting the world end? The decision rests heavily on a teenaged Space Boy.