We Are the Ants review

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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.

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson was my last read of 2017, and honestly? I can’t think of a better way to end the year. Henry was a highly engaging and candid first person narrator, who I actually saw a lot of myself in despite the fact we had next to nothing in common on paper. Getting a look inside his head was a delight–even though it rarely, rarely felt like that. This book is dark, and sad, and very lonely at times, but do not let that put you off. I for one think there is far too much wishy-washy, does-he-love-me, over-dramatisation of inane problems and the plague that is insta-love in YA lit, and this book is pretty much the antithesis of that.

At first, the ultimatum Henry is given seems almost stupid, or too easy: if you had the chance to save the world from impending doom then surely you would, wouldn’t you? The point of this book is to show you that it simply isn’t as clear cut as that. In some ways this book is a bit of an exposé on the world as a whole; this planet and the people on it are capable of terrible, terrible things. We are constantly hurting each other in a million little–and not so little–ways.

Case in point: Henry’s life isn’t so great. His mother is a struggling waitress who has all but given up on keeping their family together. His brother is unemployed and and soon to be a father. His grandmother is losing her battle with Alzheimer’s, and perhaps worst of all, Henry is still coming to terms with his boyfriend Jesse’s suicide last year.
So in that respect it is understandable why he isn’t all too enamored with this world, or too intent on saving it. But this book is also about grief and the tricky part of grief where you actually start to pull through it. As our Lord and Savior Brendon Urie of P!ATD sings in Hallelujah:

“Then the time for being sad is over
And you miss ’em like you miss no other
And being blue is better than being over it”

Sometimes being sad and existing in that perpetual state of sadness is easier than moving on. I think that for a large part of the novel, that it what Henry feels, and it is only when he starts to weigh up (and actively participate in) the world around him that he sees there are any other options for the way he is to live (or not live) his life than grief.

The way this book looks at the intricacies of family and how we blame each other for things that are ultimately out of our control hits very close to home, and is startling in it’s accuracy.

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.

One of the things I loved most about this book though, was the narrative voice. Henry’s voice is hilarious yet cynical and so, so real. It is also very consistent, and always in character, something which I feel many YA authors struggle to convey. No doubt this book deals with some very heavy themes; suicide, Alzheimer’s, bullying and existentialism to name but a few, but it does so in a poignant and intelligent way, while still maintaining an accessible and original feel.

There is also a whole host of characters to fall in love with. The new kid Diego will steal your heart and break it. Both Audrey and Henry’s older brother Charlie (as well as his girlfriend Zooey) will wind up deep within your affections without any warning whatsoever. We Are the Ants holds up a crystal clear magnifying glass to humanity and doesn’t flinch at what it finds – even if I did.

To put it simply; I loved this book. I definitely thought it was tragic at times, but also quietly hopeful, and determined, and so thoughtful it genuinely made me catch my breath. It’s also the kind of book that lends itself to re-reading, which I will be doing… time and time (and time) again.

I will also definitely be grabbing The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley (another one of Shaun David Hutchinson’s books) the next time I’m in Waterstone’s!

 

recommended for: fans of i’ll give you the sun, anyone prone to serious introspection and those who err on the side caution when it comes to soft sci-fi or YA lit: this book more than any has the potential to change your mind.

let me know what you all thought,

esmie x

★★★★★

trigger warnings: suicide, self harm mentions, existentialism/nihilism, very bad bullying & physical assault, attempted rape.

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Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde – review

 

queens of geek

Blurb from Goodreads:

When BFFs Charlie, Taylor and Jamie go to SupaCon, they know it’s going to be a blast. What they don’t expect is for it to change their lives forever.

Charlie likes to stand out. SupaCon is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star, Reese Ryan. When Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.

While Charlie dodges questions about her personal life, Taylor starts asking questions about her own.

Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about the Queen Firestone SupaFan Contest, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.

 

Queens of Geek is perhaps the most adorable book I’ve read in years!!! It was just too cute! Honestly, if you want to read a sweet, simply written, incredibly diverse book about romance and healing at a fantastically geeky convention then look no further. I did have a few issues with it, and these did drop the rating, but the book doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is always refreshing.

Jen Wilde has tackled important topics such autism, and anxiety disorder, without making them seem life ruining or completely tragic and hopeless. The story is told from alternating POV’s; Taylor, Tumblr famous in the ‘Queen Firestone’ fandom, and cosplayer extraordinaire. And Charlie, a pink haired, bi, Asian-Australian YouTuber, rising to fame after staring in a wildly successful dystopian film. Both are accompanied by their kind and funny, Latinx best friend Jamie.

I’m going to break my normal conventions and start with what I didn’t like, so that I can end this review positively, because despite its flaws, I did enjoy this book.

Firstly I have to say that there are only so many references to popular culture that you can make, as you always run the risk of your audience not being in on the joke, especially if your readers aren’t American/tuned in to Western culture. Now, I live in London and consider myself quite up to date with such things, but there were a few references that even I didn’t get, and which threw me out of the novel.

At times the dialogue felt a little stilted and forced, and I did find myself rolling my eyes sometimes, because there’s no way people actually speak like that, right? I’m fairly certain that they don’t, and again, my incredulity at some of things said (especially by Taylor) caused my focus to be pulled from the story.

Sadly, I couldn’t really connect with the characters. This doesn’t mean I don’t respect them, or like them, I just felt they were a bit flat, even though on paper they seem very multi-faceted and interesting, it didn’t really translate into the novel. I should’ve felt some sort of relatable factor towards Taylor or Charlie. Like Taylor I am deeply entrenched in fandom, and would love to go to a convention as cool sounding as SupaCan, and also have, and am currently dealing with an anxiety disorder…  but I couldn’t see myself in her or relate to her much, with the exception of a few scenes about the way anxiety affected her every day life. Charlie is POC and bisexual, like me, so surely there should have been some spark of recognition, or oh! I can relate to that! moment. Unfortunately not 😦 .

It was also very hard to enjoy Taylor’s chapters as she cried and whined in most of them… I know that she’s very anxious and autistic, so the world can get a bit much… but it was very hard to take her seriously, and started to carry less and less weight when it occurred every chapter. Also a few of her Tumblr posts that were included after most major events in the book were slightly cringey, I found! Especially as I am someone who is very active on Tumblr and posts frequently. She came across as someone who would annoy me quite a lot if I happened upon her blog, though this is purely a matter of personal preference.

Strangely, there really wasn’t much of a plot either… It was mainly centred around the two romances, and the resolutions of both of these, which wasn’t quite enough for me, but again, I feel like that’s a matter of personal preference, and also don’t really know what else could have been included to flesh it out a bit more.

With that negativity out of the way, there are lots of things I did like about this novel! The setting was really cool. SupaCon seemed genuinely awesome, and Wilde did make the atmosphere very believable and extremely exciting and hyped. She also built the romances very well! One of my favourite moments of the book, was when Alyssa Huntington, YouTube megastar and Charlie’s long time crush, was talking about her passion for science, and how meeting a successful black scientist as a young girl helped to spark an interest and present a career in science as a viable option for her.

The representation was also obviously a massive plus, as was the celebration of fan culture as a wholesome, positive experience, without the stigma of ‘weirdness’ or ‘freakiness’ that is so often attached to it.

Like I said before, if you’re looking for a quick, cute read, then this is for you, but prepare to do a bit of skim reading, especially if you prefer books with a bit more a of a substantial plot.

rating: ★★★.5 (3.5 stars)

have any of you guys read Queens of Geek? How did you find it? Whether you agree or disagree with me, don’t be afraid to let me know what you thought in the comments!

esmie xx