Synopsis: 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.
Content Warnings: Alcohol use, drug use, physical assault, attempted rape, miscarriage, suicide, homophobia, bullying, homophobic slurs
Somehow this is only the first book I’ve read by Hutchinson, even though I’ve had every single one of his books on my TBR for at least year. Now that school and work have calmed down, I was finally able to read one of them, and I am so glad I did.
This is one of those stories that simply would not work told in third person point of view. Henry has such a unique voice that only adds to the tone of the story. His dry, dark humor, love of space facts, and obliviousness to through around him make for the type of character that I don’t see enough in YA and is so easy to relate to. He spends most of the book blaming himself for his boyfriend, Jesse’s suicide but also relearning how to connect with people. Navigating high school is difficult for nearly everyone, and Henry is no exception.
Marcus is an interesting recurring character that I want to talk about. At the start of the book, I hated him because he uses Henry and the whole time Henry feels like he deserves this treatment because he’s still struggling with depression and grief. And the abuse is horrible. Marcus spends so much time fooling around with Henry in secret but bullies him in front of their peers calling him Space Boy, making him feel worthless, and even physically assaulting him with two other students. Somewhere in the middle, Marcus reaches his breaking point and tries to apologize to Henry, and I started to feel bad for him. No spoilers, but it just goes downhill from there. I’ve never been through some of the things Henry goes through in the story, but just having this obviously toxic person in your life that you keep trying to forgive hits home in a way I didn’t expect.
Similarly, Henry had withdrawn from many important people in his life before the starting point of the story. In certain points, it feels like he’s not even present in his own life, and it has nothing to do with the sluggers that abduct him from time to time (which were surprisingly not the main plot point. A significant plot point, but not the main one.) He’s stopped talking to one of his best friends Audrey, tries his best to ignore his brother and soon-to-be sister-in-law, and really only gives the time of day to people who he knows is bad for him. It’s a way of punishing himself.
As the story goes on, however, he meets Diego, who is the cliche new student who just moved to the area that no one knows anything about. Still, Diego is one hell of a character. Maybe it was because the story was told through Henry’s oblivious eyes, but Diego kept surprising me at every turn. Good surprises. Although Henry’s not so sure himself, Diego is the type of person that he needs to steer his life back on track. Diego understands Henry’s been through so much, never pushes him to talk about something he’s uncomfortable with, and never questions Henry’s sanity when talking about the sluggers. Plus he’s got quite the backstory of his own that we learn about as Henry does. Diego such a layered character and without him, the story would feel so empty.
In terms of representation, this book is amazing. Henry never had a huge coming out scene which I love, because I’m tired of seeing so many books with queer characters in which the main focus is their coming out and coming to terms with themselves. Those stories are needed, of course, but not every queer story needs to be set up like that. Another small thing (or big thing, depending) that I loved is that Diego never puts a label on himself. I struggle with labels and I just appreciate having a character like him.
Final Thought: This is a heavy book with a lot of dark themes, but if you have the spoons for it, definitely go read We Are The Ants. You won’t regret it!