You Can’t Read That! Banned Book Review: We Are the Ants

we are the antsWe Are the Ants
by Shaun David Hutchinson

Spoilers ahead. And on that subject … do I have to say it? I reject the argument that hearing or reading details about a book will spoil it for potential readers. If you’re the kind of person who won’t read a book if someone tells you anything important about it, you probably hate reading anyway and are just looking for an excuse to get out of it.

Now that we’re all friends …

“We Are the Ants” came to my attention via a news item from Texas, where a parent is demanding it be removed from a high school library. Apparently the parent is part of an organized group filing challenge after challenge to books in school libraries, often ones with LGBTQ themes or characters, and saw “We Are the Ants” on a emailed list of suggested targets. The title of the list was “Filthy Books in Schools.” That right there was enough to pique my interest, so I checked out a copy from my public library.

The narrator, Henry, is a teenaged boy. He’s gay, a little odd, and bullied at school. The boy he was in love with, Jesse, committed suicide last year and Henry can’t get past it, rejecting friends, family, teachers, even the new boy he falls in love with (and who falls in love with him). Henry has occasional gay sex of an abusive and undefined nature with Marcus, one of the bullies, which fits Henry’s self-destructive nature. So let’s see … gay sex goes on in these pages, but is never described. Genitals do not appear, and honestly I can’t recall Henry even doing much cussing. If that’s filth … well, never mind, I guess with the book-banning crowd it is.

Sometimes parents object to YA novels with themes of suicide and self-harm. True, Henry thinks about Jesse’s suicide 24/7, and while he constantly sets himself up to be beaten by the bullies, he never considers taking his own life … unless you count his alien abduction fantasy, wherein he’s periodically taken aboard a ship in orbit and offered the opportunity to press a big red button, thus canceling the scheduled destruction of the Earth and all life on it. If that’s suicidal ideation, it’s on a grand scale: Henry’s going to take literally everyone with him.

Henry’s straight older brother gets a girl pregnant outside wedlock, but that’s okay in MAGA-land since they lose the baby and anyway get married, so I think we can rule that out as a reason to object to the book. The Texas parent’s concern over filth, as far as I can tell, comes down to discomfort with kids reading about gay sex and suicide. Mind you, the parental challenge was to the book’s inclusion in a high school library, not an elementary or middle school, so this particular parent must be a very protective one … or, more likely, saw the book’s title on the Filthy Books in Schools list and challenged it without reading or really knowing anything about it.

Honestly, though, I think even if the Texas parent had read the book, he or she would still have challenged it — for its utter bleakness. Henry’s a miserable little shit and I quickly grew to hate him. All he thinks about is himself, and he goes out of his way to be contrary. The more his friends try, the harder he tries to feel sorry for himself and find excuses to hate everything. And you never get a second’s break from Henry’s misery … he’s the narrator, after all … you can’t escape him. The only reason I didn’t put the book down unfinished was because I kept hoping to get to the filthy part.

Personally, I rate this novel at two stars. I did not like it. At all. I doubt it has anything important or new to say to teenagers, certainly those who read good YA novels, of which there are so very many. Then again, I haven’t been a teenager for a long time, and maybe I’m wrong. Maybe teen readers will think Henry’s self-pitying navel-gazing is something profound. On that possibility, I give it three stars.

One thought on “You Can’t Read That! Banned Book Review: We Are the Ants

  • There is a piece on Digby’s blog today ( about the strong kickback against right-wingnut censorship and library closures in deepest red Texas. It seems such nakedly Nazi radicalism is only popular among the usual 35% mouth-breathing, cousin-fucking, neo-confederate Trumpite traitors. And not even the overwhelmingly GQP Texans like it. Probably because it makes them ‘look bad’ online in social media and in the national press. But there it is.
    Tod recently posted…Old Town Canoe DIY Thwart and Sail IdeasMy Profile

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge