We Are the Ants

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
We Are the Ants Book Poster Image
Mature themes explored in angsty end-of-the-world story.

Parents say

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Kids say

age 15+
Based on 3 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Random facts about physics and astronomy. A phrase in German is not translated. A brief discussion of Hemingway. Lots of food for thought about teen suicide, grief, depression, bullying, and what's important in life.

Positive Messages

The world can be a terrible place, but the bad things that happen don't cancel out the good things. Words are how others define you; you can define yourself however you want. We may not get to choose how we die, but we can choose how we live. You have to know yourself before you can understand anything about the larger world around you, and it's worth trying to know yourself because there's a great big world worth exploring out there. Depression isn't a war you win, it's a battle you fight every day.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Narrator Henry is still grieving the death by suicide of his boyfriend, Jesse, and spends most of the novel feeling as if the world is a terrible place to be and that nothing matters. He models some resilience and a lot of endurance just surviving day to day. He's interested in science and physics but struggles in school, with good reason. Eventually, he willingly accepts the help he needs and manages to repair and maintain good relationships with his family and close friends. Most other characters have both good and bad in them. Most are kind, decent people with a secret or with anger-management issues. There's a horrible bully who torments Henry despite being in love with him.

Violence

A few fights with punching and kicking occasionally mention blood briefly and describe the pain briefly. Bullies bind their victim's hands, gag him, kick him in the testicles, pour paint all over him, and post pictures of him on social media. Eventually they're caught and punished. Past spousal and child abuse mentions spanking with wooden spoon hard enough to break the handle and rupturing a 9-year-old's spleen during a beating. Teen suicide is a frequent topic. Self-inflicted violence such as cutting mentioned once or twice. An attacker blackens Henry's eye. Another attack includes attempted rape and a broken wrist with the pain described briefly. A teen goes into premature labor; blood, bloodstains, stillbirth, and miscarriage are briefly discussed. Fantasy violence involves being painfully experimented on by aliens, including several mentions that they don't do anal probing, mention of a man being tased, and a dozen or so doomsday scenarios.

Sex

Frequent mention of masturbation, occasional mention of erections, and ejaculation mentioned once or twice. Lots of kissing; a few instances of making out, undressing, and almost having sex include brief physical and emotional descriptions. A pregnant teen in college talks about planning to get an abortion.

Language

"Bulls--t," "f--k" and variations, "d--k" (body part and name-calling), "ass," "asshole," "bitch," "crap," "boobs," "butt," "prick," "piss," "whore," "goddamn," "hell," "Jesus" as exclamation, and "smartass." Past mention of name-calling includes "botched abortion," "faggot," dips--t," "asshat," "s--t stain," and "f--ktard."

Consumerism

Lots of cars, fast-food chains, and stores establish character or location.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens drink beer and alcohol at parties and are mentioned being drunk or stoned. Mom gives her teen sons wine on Thanksgiving. Mom has several vodka tonics at a tense family dinner. Making cheap vodka taste better by filtering it is mentioned. A teen dry-swallows a pill in a school bathroom. A teen is rumored to be "going off the rails" with booze and pills. Being popular is described as "teenage heroin." Guzzling  mNyQuilentioned. OxyContin mentioned a couple times. An abusive father is addicted to meth. A pregnant woman worries about past pot smoking before she knew she was pregnant. Henry smokes a joint with his mother. Henry's mother chain-smokes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that We Are the Ants explores mature themes, including grief, teen suicide, depression, bullying, and bad relationships as narrator Henry, who's been repeatedly abducted by aliens, tries and most often fails to find a reason to save the world from total destruction. Frank language describes teen male sexuality, frequently mentioning masturbation and referencing genitalia with terms such as "d--k," "prick," and "balls." Strong language is frequent and also includes variations of "s--t" and "f--k," "asshole," and more. Other sexual content includes some kissing and light making out. Violence isn't frequent but includes an attempted rape, an attack with the victim bound and gagged, punching, kicking, beating, and some fantasy violence such as being experimented on by aliens. Blood's mentioned a few times, and the pain from injuries is described. Best for mature teens who like their sci-fi with a heaping, healthy dose of bleak, world-weary angst.

User Reviews

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Teen, 16 years old Written byamberpoo June 16, 2016

Very relatable

I absolutely loved this book. It was so inspirational and heart filling. I love that there is more integration of the lgbtq+ community in medias such as books a... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written bylaurendadada February 22, 2017

10/10

This is actually one of my favorite books ever I love it so much, it is a bit mature so be prepared and is a bit depressing at times (weight of the world on you... Continue reading

What's the story?

Henry Denton was 13 the first time he was abducted by aliens and taken to their spaceship for experimentation. Three years and multiple abductions have passed since then, and the aliens have finally made Henry understand that in a little over three months, Earth and everything on it is going to be destroyed --- unless Henry chooses to save the world by pushing a big red button. But since his boyfriend, Jesse, committed suicide last year, Henry hasn't seen that there's much of life worth preserving. Surely he and his struggling family would all be better off if they just ceased to exist? Enter new student Diego, a handsome artist with a dark past, who shows Henry through his paintings and his appreciation of the world's beauty, that even if WE ARE THE ANTS, we're here, we matter, and no one can take that away from us.

Is it any good?

Shaun David Hutchinson's compelling story has a surprisingly relatable hero, takes on a lot, and provides much food for thought for mature teens wondering what life's really about. Henry's voice is believable and provides a firm anchor for navigating what in less-capable hands would be a confusing jumble of family dysfunction, grief, alien abduction, love, bullying, and friendship -- in short, the whole teen experience.

Henry's inability to see anything positive gets frustrating sometimes. And the conclusion has a bit of a magic-wand feel to it that leaves a cynical aftertaste. But mature teens who are wondering about their place in the world and how they’ll ever be able to cope with life’s enormity will learn a lot from going on this strange, dark journey with Henry.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about coping with depression. What are some good resources you can turn to if you or someone you love might suffer from depression?

  • Why are books and movies about the end of the world so popular? Why are we so fascinated by the possibility? Which of Henry's scenarios for how it happens seemed most realistic to you?

  • If you could prevent the end of the world by pushing a button, would you push it? Why, or why not?

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