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Book Review: We Are The Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

Publisher’s description:

we are the antsFrom the “author to watch” (Kirkus Reviews) of The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley comes a brand-new novel about a teenage boy who must decide whether or not the world is worth saving.

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.

After all, life hasn’t been great for Henry. His mom is a struggling waitress held together by a thin layer of cigarette smoke. His brother is a jobless dropout who just knocked someone up. His grandmother is slowly losing herself to Alzheimer’s. And Henry is still dealing with the grief of his boyfriend’s suicide last year.

Wiping the slate clean sounds like a pretty good choice to him.

But Henry is a scientist first, and facing the question thoroughly and logically, he begins to look for pros and cons: in the bully who is his perpetual one-night stand, in the best friend who betrayed him, in the brilliant and mysterious boy who walked into the wrong class. Weighing the pain and the joy that surrounds him, Henry is left with the ultimate choice: push the button and save the planet and everyone on it…or let the world—and his pain—be destroyed forever.

 

Amanda’s thoughts:

We first meet Henry when we read his words, the opening words of the novel: “Chemistry: Extra Credit Project. Life is bullshit.” Henry has spent the last year, if not the many years prior to it, too, honing his nihilism. Life is absurd and meaningless. We are insignificant and don’t matter. We’re just ants. So when he gets the chance to stop the world from ending, he really has to think it over. Why let the world go on? With all of the pain and misery and unfairness, why not let it all end? He’s looking at the big picture of things, sure, but this is also just about him. Is not wanting the world to go on the same thing as wanting to die? Is not believing the world–filled with so many mistakes and so much pain–deserves to go on the same thing as not believing that he deserves to go on? Is letting the world end just an extremely epic way to commit suicide? As we get to know Henry–grieving, lonely, guilt-ridden Henry–we see why he’s so conflicted over a question that might seem like it has an easy answer.

 

Henry has 144 days to get through before either saving the world or letting it end. A lot of those days are terrible. Thanks to his brother spreading the word that Henry had been abducted by aliens, he’s known around school as Space Boy. Since the suicide of his boyfriend Jesse, he doesn’t have any friends. He hooks up with Marcus, the school’s golden boy and a supreme bully, in secret, trying to fill the Jesse-shaped hole in his life. Marcus torments him, physically and verbally, but Henry keeps going back for more. He feels guilty for Jesse’s suicide and, maybe as a result, doesn’t seem to care very much about what happens to him or what the consequences might be. After all, if the world is about to end, why make things worse than they are? Why call out bullies, or think you deserve better, or think anything will change? Why want or hope? Nothing matters–right?

 

As you might expect, some things happen to Henry that make him have to think harder about both what he might ultimately do about the whole world ending thing and about actually living his life instead of just standing by while things happen to him. He meets Diego, a mysterious and complicated new guy with a troubled past. He starts hanging out again with Audrey, Jesse’s (and his) BFF. He starts to see the potential for change and for better lives with his mother and his brother. But none of these things means suddenly life becomes bearable. He’s still routinely assaulted and taunted. He’s still scared to get close to anyone. He can’t see how he can possibly be with Diego (who Henry thought was straight and who says the excellent line, “I like people, not the parts they have.”) when Diego wants to ignore the past and Henry doesn’t believe in a future. He’s still wracked with grief, guilt-ridden, hopeless, and just desperately sad. Everything–the entire fate of the world–ultimately comes down to whether or not Henry wants to go on living. 

 

Hutchinson’s latest book is a powerful look at depression, grief, guilt, families, bullying, hope, and the power to change. He shows us an extremely broken character, one who’s not convinced it’s worth it to even try to put the pieces back together, and really makes us wonder not only what will ultimately happen to the universe, but what will happen to Henry as he falls deeper and deeper into despair. Another fantastic book from Hutchinson, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. Smart, funny, weird, and heartbreaking, this title will have wide appeal thanks to compelling characters, an offbeat plot, and fantastic writing. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781481449632

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publication date: 01/19/2016

Take 5: Books about suicide

Did you know that under the Teen Issues link up there on the menu bar, you can find lots of great posts and book lists organized by issue? Everything from addiction to violence is covered. If you don’t see a topic covered that you think is of interest, please leave a comment, tweet us (Amanda MacGregor @CiteSomething or Karen Jensen @TLT16), or email us at the addresses provided on the About TLT page.

 

Take 5: Books about suicide (2015)

All descriptions of these recently published books from the publisher. I’ve reviewed three of them recently (and the other two reviews will be forthcoming), so check out the links for my thoughts on them. It’s interesting that three of the books on this list all came out on the same day. Books about suicide are certainly not a new trend, but the publication of so many titles about this topic so close together is worth noting.

 

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books

Publication date: 1/6/2015

ISBN-13: 9780385755887

Summary:

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

 

Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff 

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 1/27/2015

ISBN-13: 9780062310507

Summary:

Part mystery, part love story, and part coming-of-age tale in the vein of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Spectacular Now.

There was a party. There was a fight. The next morning, Sam’s best friend, Hayden, was dead. And all he left Sam was a playlist of songs and a suicide note: For Sam—listen and you’ll understand. To figure out what happened, Sam has to rely on the playlist and his own memory. But the more he listens, the more he realizes that his memory isn’t as reliable as he thought. And it might only be by taking out his earbuds and opening his eyes to the people around him that he’ll finally be able to piece together his best friend’s story. And maybe have a chance to change his own.

Playlist for the Dead is an honest and gut-wrenching first novel about loss, rage, what it feels like to outgrow a friendship that’s always defined you—and the struggle to redefine yourself. But above all, it’s about finding hope when hope seems like the hardest thing to find.

(See my review of this title here.)

 

The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 2/10/2015

ISBN-13: 9780062318473

Summary:

Since her brother, Tyler, committed suicide, Lex has been trying to keep her grief locked away, and to forget about what happened that night. But as she starts putting her life, her family, and her friendships back together, Lex is haunted by a secret she hasn’t told anyone—a text Tyler sent, that could have changed everything.

In the tradition of Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, and Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall,The Last Time We Say Goodbye is a thoughtful and deeply affecting novel that will change the way you look at life and death.

(See my review of this title here, as well as my thoughts on the character’s attitude toward mental health medications here)

 

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga 

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 2/10/2015

ISBN-13: 9780062324672

Summary:

Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who can barely look at her without wincing, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father whose violent crime rocked her small town, Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness.

There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But once she discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, Aysel’s convinced she’s found her solution—Roman, a teenage boy who’s haunted by a family tragedy, is looking for a partner. Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Ultimately, she must choose between wanting to die or trying to convince Roman to live so they can discover the potential of their energy together.

(See my review of this title here)

 

When Reason Breaks by Cindy L. Rodriguez

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA

Publication date: 2/10/2015

ISBN-13: 9781619634121

Summary:

A Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger before it destroys her. Emily Delgado appears to be a smart, sweet girl with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal. Both girls are in Ms. Diaz’s English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson. Both are hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice. One of them will attempt suicide. And with Dickinson’s poetry as their guide, both girls must conquer their personal demons to ever be happy.

In an emotionally taut novel that is equal parts literary and commercial, with a richly diverse cast of characters, readers will relish in the poetry of Emily Dickinson and be completely swept up in the turmoil of two girls fighting for their lives.

 

If you would like to recommend additional titles on this topic, please leave us a comment. We always look forward to hearing what books others value and recommend.

 

Some other great posts that detail more books can be found at:

Stacked, “Suicide and Depression in YA: A Discussion and Book List.” 

YA Book Shelf, “Suicide Awareness Week Wrap Up.” 

Jennifer R. Hubbard, “YA Books about Suicide.” 

Editing this to add: Stacked: “The Rise of Suicide in YA Fiction and Exploring Personal Biases in Reading.” 

Book review: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

In Jasmine Warga’s My Heart and Other Black Holes, two depressed teens find each other on a suicide support website and make a pact to be suicide partners.

 

Aysel thinks her future is a black hole. She’s terrified that she will turn out to be a monster like her father, who killed a local teen. She looks online for a suicide partner, someone who would plan with her and make her go through with it. She comes across a boy whose handle is FrozenRobot. In real life, his name is Roman, he’s a year or so older than Aysel is, and lives only 15 minutes away from her small town of Langston, Kentucky. Roman is looking for someone to die with him on April 7, the anniversary of a horrible event in his life. This gives the teens less than a month (the narrative begins on March 12) to plan and prepare for their suicides.

 

Aysel (who is Turkish and tells a classmate that her name rhymes with “gazelle”) often references the black slug that is depression. It lives in her and eats up all the goodness and joy that there could be. While talking about her classmates trying to decode poems by depressed poets, she thinks, “Anyone who has actually been that sad can tell you that there’s nothing beautiful or literary or mysterious about depression.” She goes on to say, “If I know anything about [depression], this is what I know: It’s impossible to escape.” There is a lot of this extremely honest talk about depression, something I appreciated.

 

Roman needs Aysel to basically stand in as a new friend who will allow him to get out of the house long enough to kill himself. For the past year, his parents have watched him closely, taking away his driving privileges and even checking on him in the middle of the night. They know he’s depressed and the fear what he might do. But if he has a new friend and acts “normal,” he should be able to start getting out of the house more.

 

Together, they form a weird and tense friendship. As they get to know each other and really talk about their lives, their pain, and their depression, they grow closer. All along Roman has been worried that Aysel will flake out on him, and when she begins to realize she might not want to go through with this, she wonders if she can turn Roman into a flake, too.

 

Small peeks of humor and the slow friendship between the teens keeps this from being unbearably sad. Aysel is a great character. She thinks a lot about her depression and grows over the course of the story. The writing is beautiful and the plotting is perfect—the countdown at the top of each chapter reminds us that even if they’re having what feel like regular experiences and conversations, they are moving quickly toward their ends. A moving exploration of depression, isolation, strength, and, ultimately, hope.

 

An author’s note at the end talks about the depression, encouraging readers to treat suicidal thoughts as a medical emergency and to get help. Warga also addresses readers who think they might have a friend struggling with depression, and asks them to talk with the friend or an authority figure about it. Suicide prevention and counseling hotlines and websites are also appended.

 

REVIEW COPY COURTESY OF EDELWEISS

ISBN-13: 9780062324672

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 2/10/2015