Ten teens are left out in the wilderness to learn how to come together as a team and make their way back to the Zeppelin Bend an education camp for delinquent children. On the journey they begin to tell stories in order to not only learn more about each other, but to also stay sane.
Interesting thing is that stories tend to help you learn about the people around you, even if they don’t mean to let anything about themselves be known. As they journey they realize they have more in common then first thought. Connections are built as they work to survive this final test.
I picked up this book because Shaun David Hutchinson was one of the authors. I don’t know if I would have picked it up otherwise, the story itself didn’t seem all that interesting to me but I figured I would give it a shot. I am glad I did. While it didn’t amaze me it was an enjoyable read.
I really loved the use of storytelling in this book. Each character gets a chance to tell a story, whether it is about them or about something completely unrelated. We learn about the characters through each of the stories. I loved how stories are used to get to the heart of the characters. We don’t have to just watch them trapeze through the woods and make assumptions.
We get stories that tell us something about all the characters. We don’t learn everything but we do learn that they all have something to relate to. They all are put into this situation because they are perceived as a problem. They made poor choices and are labeled as problem child. In the end we learn that they are all young people trying to figure out what they are doing in life.
While it is a cliche the characters do form a connection to one another. We know that at the end that connection is not going to last but it was a nice element to the story. I liked that each of them realized that they weren’t the only ones to have hit a rough patch.
There was nothing surprising or out of the ordinary in this story. It was a classic understanding one another story. They all had issues, tell stories and come to understand that they are alike. There is nothing that I couldn’t have predicted from reading the summary.
The journey through the woods was just the backdrop to the story. They hit a few snags but I never felt like they were at risk. I didn’t feel like this was much of test of survival for them. It was just a place for them to tell the stories. I kind of wanted a bit more from the walk.
I enjoyed the story but as I said there was nothing out of the ordinary in the story. It was pretty simple. I kind of wished for a twist. Maybe not to have a feel good ending. Maybe even though they tell each other their stories they don’t form an understanding. Maybe having one person or a few of them just not find a place would have made it seem different.
I gave this book four stars on Goodreads. I enjoyed the storytelling aspect of it. I liked that this was how we learned about the characters. I just wished for a bit more depth or twists to the story.
“And sometimes when you’re telling a story, you can’t let stupid shit like the truth get in the way.” (pg. 1)
“It’s not that they lie intentionally, but when people describe themselves they’re really describing what they see in the mirror, and most mirror are too distorted to show the truth. If you listen hard enough, there’s more truth in fiction than in all the other shit combined.” (pg. 6)
“I guess what I like are stories that don’t just make you scared of what’s out there, waiting to get you. I like the ones that make you scared of what might be hidden somewhere inside of yourself. Not knowing one’s own secrets, never mind anyone else’s.” (pg. 161)
“None of that makes a difference, though.[…] Not if all people see is what we’ve done rather than who we are.” (pg. 266)
“You could spend a lifetime exploring the vastness between a person’s words and still never really know them. ” (pg. 305).
Elena is a loner. She has one best friend. She is the product of a virgin birth, there is science behind it, just look it up. She has a secret crush on a girl she has never spoken to. Then things come crashing down around her. She witnesses her crush being shot, desperate to help she listens to the voices and heals her. Not a mark is left behind.
Then things really start to go crazy. The voices tell her the world is ending and it is up to her to save everyone. Elena is left wondering if it is okay to make such a monumental decision for herself let alone the whole world.
What I loved:
Shaun David Hutchinson is one of my favorite authors. I fell in love with We Are the Ants and At the Edge of the Universe. I quickly learned that he is an author who puts depth and life into his stories. I always feel uplifted and enlightened whenever I read his books and this one was no different.
One of the things I liked most about this book was that it followed a different formula that the other two. Both We are the Ants and At the Edge of the Universe had subtle magic to them. No one else but the main characters knew about the supernatural elements of what was going on. The supernatural elements were real for just the main characters.
In this one, the magic was right out there in the open. Everyone found out about Elena quickly and they believed her. She didn’t hide that she could heal people. Everyone knew what was going on, even if they didn’t know the finer points. I liked this element. Sometimes an author can get into a routine and books can feel the same, even if the message is different. Having everyone know about Elena made this book feel fresh and new.
I also loved the nods to the characters in We are the Ants and At the Edge of the Universe. I love that we are still in this same universe. The characters are thrown in a natural way. If you haven’t read the other two you wouldn’t know they were significant. They serve their purpose in the story but it is a fun easter egg for the reader as well.
The message of this book was about choices. Who has the right to make choices for others? What does making a choice mean? Choices are good and bad and that is okay. You can’t hide from choices because you are afraid of the consequences. Choices rule our lives and we have to find a way to make use of that.
I loved how we saw the idea of choice reflected in each of the characters. We saw how choices affected them, and those around them. I liked that we got the different angle of choices. Some understood the importance while others were as scared as Elena. I enjoyed this round look at the idea and how many different opinions are attached to the idea of making choices.
I enjoyed Elena’s journey. I liked how she was always going back and forth. She didn’t know what to do and that felt real. Just like Henry in We are the Ants, it felt natural to have this constant questioning of her decision. I felt a deep connection to her because of that. As an indecisive person, I could relate to her plight. I would also have a serious issue trying to figure out what was right and if “right” even existed in this situation.
As always Hutchinson provides a very diverse cast without feeling forced. Sometimes you can tell that diverse characters are included just to be diverse. All the characters in this book felt real and there for a reason. They weren’t there just to represent a culture or sexuality, there was no preaching about them. They were there because that who the story was about, period.
What I was just okay with:
While I loved the story I didn’t feel as connected to Elena as I have to past main characters. I also felt like some of the side characters weren’t as developed and deep as his side characters have been before. Not that it was bad, I just am used to a certain level from his other books. I still loved the story and the characters, I just noticed that I didn’t feel as connected to them as I have to his other characters in the past.
I actually liked Javi’s story arc the best. At first his character seems shallow and I thought I was going to detest him. I learned quickly that he was a seriously complicated young man. He was a teenager who was fighting what was around him. He showed how kids are being told one thing by friends, one thing by parents and one thing by society. I thought it was a great representation of how we forget what these kids are going through sometimes.
What I wished was different:
I can’t think of anything that really took me out of the story. The pace as good, the characters were alive and whole and it left me thinking.
Shaun David Hutchinson has a great way of taking a “fantasy” story and making it feel relevant to our everyday lives. I enjoy his take on life and the way his stories make me think. I gave this one four out of five stars on Goodreads. It is not my favorite of his but still a great read all the same.
“It’s easy to allow the world to collapse down to our own stories. To see ourselves at the central figure in the only story worth knowing and forget that every person we encounter is living their own, is the center of their own universe.” (pg. 12)
“Sometimes a person can believe a thing so hard that not even beating them over the head with facts will change their mind.” (pg. 42)
“We were each living our own story, and while some, like Mama, were fighting to change the narrative, others struggled to escape the circumstances of their past and the specter of their future, while a few had given up completely.” (pg. 47)
“Who got to determine the baseline for what was normal and what wasn’t, and who appointed them to make that decision?” (pg. 89) ( love this quote!)
“No one’s innocent, Elena. Not even the Cedric Diggory’s of the world.” (pg. 217) (This was a fantastic discussion that actually made me look at certain characters from Harry Potter differently. I adored this passage because of how enlightening it was!)
“Guess what happens when you don’t make a choice?
“Nothing. Maybe you don’t fuck anything up, but nothing gets better either.” (pg. 314) (Sums up the message of this story and how important it is for everyone to realize how important making a choice can be. They are scary but they are necessary).
“We can’t make choices for others.” (pg. 351)
Shaun David Hutchinson’s books are going to be stories that have one thing going on the surface and another thing in the deeper story. At the Edge of the Universe is about moving on in life, not letting one soul or one event become the center of your universe. You have to see the world is larger than just you. Take one step beyond your personal circle and the world opens up.
Ozzie and Tommy have been best friends since they were young. They have been dating since 8th grade. One day Ozzie wakes up and Tommy has disappeared. No one remembers he existed at all, no one but Ozzie.
Ozzie is set on finding his lost boyfriend, desperate for him to not be truly forgotten. Though complications arise when he falls for his physics project partner, Calvin. Can he let Tommy go? What should he do about the universe that is literally shrinking around him? No one else notices Tommy’ disappearance or the shrinking universe. Does it matter in the end? Was Tommy even real at all?
The plot of the universe shrinking and Tommy not being remembered are secondary to the fact that Ozzie has had an issue seeing the world beyond himself. At first he seems selfish. HIs parents are divorcing and he keeps speaking about in terms of how it will effect him. His brother is leaving for the army and he again centers the issue on how it connects to him. Things at first surround him, the universe is about him.
As the universe begins to shrink, Ozzie begins to understand that he isn’t the only one in the world. Everyone has their own problems, some much serious than his own.
I really liked the way these two ideas were juxtaposed with each other. The universe is literally shrinking just as Ozzie is learning that the world is much bigger than he initially thought. Just as he is looking around, wanting to experience more he is losing it all. He learns quickly not to let life center on one thing and one thing only. Just as he is learning all of this he becomes the literal center of the universe and it is the last thing he wants.
Just as with we are the ants the side characters in this story are well developed. No one came off as flat. I would say that we are the ants does a bit better job of it but I did appreciate that we learn about everyone in this book and not just Ozzie, Tommy and Calvin. Also this book has a very diverse set of characters.
Lua, one of Ozzie’s best friends, is a genre fluid character. This is the first time I have ever read a book with this type of character and I loved the inclusion. I also like the explanation, it is simple and succinct. Lua tells her friends that the pronoun to use with them can be based off their clothing. If he is dressed in a more masculine type outfit than everyone can use “he,” pronouns. If she is dressed more traditionally feminine then everyone can use “she” pronouns. It was easy to follow, and understand.
I also loved how everyone reacted to them. I never felt like anyone was preaching about it to the reader. This was who Lua was. No one fought with them. There was a bit confusion from some of the more antagonist type characters but once we find out why, it all makes sense. I like the inclusion that felt natural. Lua wasn’t forced into the story to have representation, they were included because that is who this character was. I like this type of inclusion, when it just feels like the character is anyone else, nothing different or special but just a person.
Lua wasn’t the only character of diversity. One of Ozzie’s friends is described as asexual and Tommy is black. The story doesn’t focus on just one of these characters, but they are included to show the reader that the world around is much more diverse than you may think. I appreciate books like this because, especially now, we have to see how diverse and beautiful our world is.
By the end of the book I wasn’t sure if Tommy was real or if that really mattered. What mattered was if Ozzie could see that the universe is this larger thing and we have to find a way to balance ourselves in it. If you don’t find that balance you may end up losing yourself.
I enjoy Shaun David Hutchinson’s stories because they are not only diverse but deep. He uses surface level fantasy to delve into deeper issues and ways to see the world. He is able to explore difficult topics with making you feel bogged down or preached at. The reader is comfortable as they read, eager to see how things turn out. You feel connected to the characters no matter how different than you they may be.
“If you knew the world was going to end but you could prevent it, would you?” This is the question that gets asked over and over again throughout we are the ants by Shaun David Hutchinson. If you had a chance to end life on our planet, would you? What would make you save the world? What would make you think that the world deserved to be destroyed? Do you get to make the decision based off your own life only? Should you take into account all the lives you would be affecting? This was an interesting read that didn’t seem like it would make you think, but ends up sitting in your head long after you finished the last sentence.
Henry is teenager, just trying to make it from one day to the next. His life is not one many would envy. His brother is constantly bullying him, his grandmother is falling further and further into dementia, his mother works as a waitress to barely keep them afloat, his father left them a long time ago and his boyfriend committed suicide about a year before the story starts. His life is a constant battle to find something worth living for.
For a while before the story stared Henry had been getting abducted by aliens. They never truly commincatue with him. They abduct him, do tests and then let him go. Everyone at school thinks him crazy, as does his family. The story starts right after he has been abducted and given a choice: he can either press the button they present him with and save the world or he can not press it and end the world. He is given until January 29th, 2016, 143 days, to make his choice.
We follow Henry as his strives to make his decision, to save the world or to let it burn. The part I liked most about this story was that as I read through I kept changing my mind whether I wanted him to push the button or not. At first I didn’t blame him for wanting to be done with this world, his life was not fun. He had little going for him, I understood why he wanted to give up.
As the story progressed and he rekindled an old friendship and found a new love interest I found myself wanting him to want to live. Though events kept changing that. Just as things started to work out, a wall came down and threw him backward. I liked that I didn’t know what I wanted him to do. I didn’t make a decision at the beginning and stick with it. I was like Henry, going back and forth between the options trying to determine what mattered and what didn’t.
One of the main themes of this book was the idea of finding a balance between the past, present and future. Henry is someone who is stuck in the past. He can’t get over his boyfriend’s suicide. He has no answer and that bothers him. He is also stuck on his fahter leaving and yet again having no reason for that event. He is someone who stays stuck in what happened and obsesses over what he can’t change. When he is given his option of the saving the world he can’t think of saving it at first because he can’t envision any future. The future is impossible for him.
On the other hand is Diego, someone who comes into Henry’s life. Diego is the opposite of Henry, he is obsessed with the future. Diego refuses to look at the past. It is over and done with and he can’t change it. He won’t acknowledge it, to either accept or deny it.
What everyone has to learn is that a balance is needed. You can’t forget the past. It teaches us things and reminds of what has happened before. We need the past in order to have a future. You also can’t fully live in the future because you then live in a kind of fantasy world. You are always waiting for something to happen. You have to live in the present, learn from the past and anticipate the future.
This was a book that was much more than I expected. I thought it was going to be a more fun book about someone dealing with aliens and what they wanted. What is was, was a deep story about finding a reason to live; and not just for Henry, but for everyone in his life. Every character was deep and could hold the story on their own. I enjoyed that the story was much deeper than I anticipated when I started it.
I haven’t done one of these in awhile. What are you reading Wednesday is a feature over on It’s a Reading Thing. Pretty simple to take part. Find the book you are currently reading and answer the following questions.
1.) What are you currently reading? – we are the ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
2.) Got to page 34 or 33% in your e-book and share a couple of sentences:
“It begins with excitement. The date is 24 January 2016, Frieda Eichman of Grunstradt is the first to identify the astroid, using the telescope her father gave her for her thirteenth birthday. He’s been dead these last twenty years, but he would have been proud.”
3.)Would you live in the world that exists in the book? Why or why not?
The world is actually our world. Henry is given the option to destroy or save the world. I am already technically living in this world. But if I had to choose to live in Henry’s life I would not choose not to. His life is very rough and I am not sure I could handle that much pain and grief. I honestly wouldn’t blame him at this point for destroying the world.
What are you currently reading?
My birthday was in November and I got a few gift cards to Barnes and Noble, which means I got a nice amount of new books! Now, I have zero self-control when it comes to book shopping. I wanted to try to only spend the gift cards but that didn’t happen. I just get absorbed into the shelves and find myself with a pile of books in my arms before too long. Here are the books I will be adding to my shelves.
Vicious – V.E. Schwab – This is the one I am currently reading. I have read V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series and loved it. I also loved This Savage Song. I’ve heard great things about her first book and I was eager to get my hands on it. I am about 3/4 of the way through it and I am loving it! I will have a review up once I finish it.
The Magicians – Lev Grossman – I know this series just became a tv series but I had heard about it in passing before that. This is just one that I see on recommendation lists periodically and I have always been slightly intrigued. I may start reading this after Christmas because it is part of a series and I need to stall my spending until after my bank account recovered from Christmas and if I like the first book in a series I have to continue with the series. I can’t just read the first book and then other books in between. I have to read what I can of a series all at once.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here – Patrick Ness– This concept of this one intrigued me. It is about all the other characters in the adventure stories that aren’t the “Chosen One.” It seems interesting and a fun read.
Ink and Bone – Rachel Caine – I have no idea where I first heard of this one but the story concept grabbed me right away. It is about a time when The Great Library of Alexandria is still around. It controls all knowledge and the owning of books is illegal (one of my nightmares). It is about a boy trying to take this organization down. I love the idea but it is another one that is part of a series so that may end up on the back of my reading list until after Christmas.
We Are the Ants – Shaun David Hutchinson – This is another one that I can’t quite remember where I heard about it. It is about a boy who is given the chance to either destroy the planet or save it. It is up to him to determine if the world and his life are worth saving. I thought it sounded like one that will make me think as I read it. I love books that make me question and put me in moral dilemmas so this should be an interesting read.
The View from the Cheap Seats – Selected Nonfiction – Neil Gaiman – This one my mom actually found while we were wandering around the bookstore. Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors and this book has a number of his essays on a range of topics. This is the only nonfiction book I bought but I am hoping it gives me some inspiration or at least lets me learn more about one of my favorite authors.
Genius: The Game – Leopoldo Gout – This one I saw on the shelf and was instantly attracted to it. The cover pulled me in. It has a pretty simple summary, a number of geniuses are brought together to play a game that will have world wide effects. I like the idea of a mind game. Not sure what to expect from this one but I am excited to read it.
So these are some of my new books. Have you read any of these? If so what do you think of them? Have you bought any new books recently?