“If you knew the world was ending and you could save it by pressing a button, would you?”
That’s the hot topic Henry Denton, a teenager with a vocabulary like a token John Green character, has to make a decision about in the audiobook version of Shaun David Hutchinson’s We Are the Ants. Henry, a high school student in Calypso, Florida, has a lot on his plate—his dad ran out on the family when he was young, his brother is a college dropout who couldn’t care less about Henry, his grandmother has Alzheimer’s, his bully at school torments him one minute and makes out with him in the bathroom the next, and to top it all off, his boyfriend, Jesse, recently committed suicide.
So when aliens—referred to by Henry as “sluggers”—continually abduct Henry and eventually give him the choice of saving the world by pushing a big red button or letting it be destroyed on January 29, 2016, it’s understandable that he’s got some hesitations about letting the world keep on keeping on.
I was so intrigued by the plot of this book, and the glowing reviews on Goodreads just made me even more excited to start listening. With such a rad premise brimming with so much potential, I’m so bummed that I didn’t enjoy it more.
Henry’s got a lot of stuff going on in his life that he has to deal with, and it’s natural for him to be depressed and angry and apathetic about the world, but as a character, he was just so damn boring. He spent so much time in a haze, and I found my mind wandering and eyes rolling more often than not at his inner monologue as the book went on. I wanted to learn more about the other characters around him—his former best friend Audrey, his brother Charlie and his girlfriend Zooey, his sweet, well-meaning grandmother, or even the sluggers, which are painfully underutilized in the story, which is ultimately more romance and drama than sci-fi—but because Henry was so dismissive of nearly everyone in his life so often, there wasn’t much of a chance to learn more about them.
The only person that Henry seems to let in, even though it takes a while, is the new boy from Colorado, Diego Vega. Diego’s got a mysterious past, and meeting him is the first thing that triggers the thought in Henry that maybe he should forget his initial plan of letting the world be destroyed. Maybe.
Don’t get me wrong—there were some things that I enjoyed in We Are the Ants. The representation is great, especially since Diego is openly bisexual, and several of the characters have interesting backstories that I wish we could’ve learned more about. My favorite parts of the story, though, came in the small chapters interspersed between the actual story, where Hutchinson offers different examples of how the world could potentially end. Each one was weird and unique and interesting, and I found myself waiting for the next one while slogging through different parts of the main plot.
On a completely off-topic note, I’m not sure how intentional it was, but it was great marketing to have the book be released on January 19, 2016. I’m sure anyone reading it between then and the supposed end-of-the-world date the sluggers set would have gotten an added sense that the story was going on around them, right that very moment.
Scanning through We Are the Ants’ Goodreads reviews (it’s got a 4.26 out of 5 rating there, with over 1,000 reviews), I began to wonder if I was missing something. Maybe I should go back and actually read the book instead of listen to the audio version, but I’m not sure that it’d make much difference. As much as I want it to be, I don’t think this book was for me.
The audiobook’s narrator, Gibson Frazier, didn’t do much for me, either. There are some narrators who perform the book, who use their voices to add dramatic tension and humor when necessary, but Frazier just sort of…read it. He changed his voice every so often, but I wasn’t especially impressed with it.
All in all, I think We Are the Ants would be a great read for high schoolers and fans of John Green’s books. It’s definitely not a feel-good summer read, though—the trigger warnings include abuse, harassment, assault, miscarriages, and suicide.
Story: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Narration: 2 out of 5 stars
Overall: 2 out of 5 stars
Allison Racicot is the Audiobook Reviewer at Girls in Capes. She spends too much time listening to podcasts and getting overly attached to fictional characters. Follow her on Twitter @allisonracicot.