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From the “author to watch” (Kirkus Reviews) of The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley comes an “equal parts sarcastic and profound” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) 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.
About the Author
Shaun David Hutchinson is the author of numerous books for young adults, including The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried, The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza, At the Edge of the Universe, and We Are the Ants. He also edited the anthologies Violent Ends and Feral Youth and wrote the memoir Brave Face, which chronicles his struggles with depression and coming out during his teenage years. He lives in Seattle, where he enjoys drinking coffee, yelling at the TV, and eating cake. Visit him at ShaunDavidHutchinson.com or on Twitter @ShaunieDarko.
Read an Excerpt
We Are the Ants
Life is bullshit.
Consider your life for a moment. Think about all those little rituals that sustain you throughout your day—from the moment you wake up until that last, lonely midnight hour when you guzzle a gallon of NyQuil to drown out the persistent voice in your head. The one that whispers you should give up, give in, that tomorrow won’t be better than today. Think about the absurdity of brushing your teeth, of arguing with your mother over the appropriateness of what you’re wearing to school, of homework, of grade-point averages and boyfriends and hot school lunches.
Think about the absurdity of life.
When you break down the things we do every day to their component pieces, you begin to understand how ridiculous they are. Like kissing, for instance. You wouldn’t let a stranger off the street spit into your mouth, but you’ll swap saliva with the boy or girl who makes your heart race and your pits sweat and gives you boners at the worst fucking times. You’ll stick your tongue in his mouth or her mouth or their mouth, and let them reciprocate without stopping to consider where else their tongue has been, or whether they’re giving you mouth herpes or mono or leftover morsels of their tuna-salad sandwich.
We shave our legs and pluck our eyebrows and slather our bodies with creams and lotions. We starve ourselves so we can fit into the perfect pair of jeans, we pollute our bodies with drugs to increase our muscles so we’ll look ripped without a shirt. We drive fast and party hard and study for exams that don’t mean dick in the grand scheme of the cosmos.
Physicists have theorized that we live in an infinite and infinitely expanding universe, and that everything in it will eventually repeat. There are infinite copies of your mom and your dad and your clothes-stealing little sister. There are infinite copies of you. Despite what you’ve spent your entire life believing, you are not a special snowflake. Somewhere out there, another you is living your life. Chances are, they’re living it better. They’re learning to speak French or screwing their brains out instead of loafing on the couch in their boxers, stuffing their face with bowl after bowl of Fruity Oatholes while wondering why they’re all alone on a Friday night. But that’s not even the worst part. What’s really going to send you running over the side of the nearest bridge is that none of it matters. I’ll die, you’ll die, we’ll all die, and the things we’ve done, the choices we’ve made, will amount to nothing.
Out in the world, crawling in a field at the edge of some bullshit town with a name like Shoshoni or Medicine Bow, is an ant. You weren’t aware of it. Didn’t know whether it was a soldier, a drone, or the queen. Didn’t care if it was scouting for food to drag back to the nest or building new tunnels for wriggly ant larvae. Until now that ant simply didn’t exist for you. If I hadn’t mentioned it, you would have continued on with your life, pinballing from one tedious task to the next—shoving your tongue into the bacterial minefield of your girlfriend’s mouth, doodling the variations of your combined names on the cover of your notebook—waiting for electronic bits to zoom through the air and tell you that someone was thinking about you. That for one fleeting moment you were the most significant person in someone else’s insignificant life. But whether you knew about it or not, that ant is still out there doing ant things while you wait for the next text message to prove that out of the seven billion self-centered people on this planet, you are important. Your entire sense of self-worth is predicated upon your belief that you matter, that you matter to the universe.
But you don’t.
Because we are the ants.
• • •
I didn’t waste time thinking about the future until the night the sluggers abducted me and told me the world was going to end.
I’m not insane. When I tell you the human race is toast, I’m not speaking hyperbolically the way people do when they say we’re all dying from the moment our mothers evict us from their bodies into a world where everything feels heavier and brighter and far too loud. I’m telling you that tomorrow—January 29, 2016—you can kiss your Chipotle-eating, Frappuccino-drinking, fat ass good-bye.
You probably don’t believe me—I wouldn’t in your place—but I’ve had 143 days to come to terms with our inevitable destruction, and I’ve spent most of those days thinking about the future. Wondering whether I have or want one, trying to decide if the end of existence is a tragedy, a comedy, or as inconsequential as that chem lab I forgot to turn in last week.
But the real joke isn’t that the sluggers revealed to me the date of Earth’s demise; it’s that they offered me the choice to prevent it.
You asked for a story, so here it is. I’ll begin with the night the sluggers told me the world was toast, and when I’m finished, we can wait for the end together.
Reading Group Guide
A Reading Group Guide to
We Are the Ants
By Shaun David Hutchinson
About This Book
All Henry wanted was to be left alone, to live his life in peace. But that was not to be. King-of-the-jocks Marcus won’t leave him alone, alternating between bullying Henry and hooking up with him. His grandmother won’t leave him alone, as she needs more and more help from her family as she slides into dementia. His brother, Charlie, continues his brotherly torture of Henry, even with the distraction of a pregnant girlfriend. The kids at school won’t leave him alone—most of them taunt him mercilessly, while Audrey and Diego insist on trying to get close. Even the memory of his former boyfriend, Jesse, who committed suicide, continues to haunt him. But worst of all are the sluggers, the aliens who have been regularly abducting Henry since he was young. They have stepped up their game, presenting him with a terrible choice.
The sluggers know when the world is going to end, and they are forcing Henry to decide whether or not to save it. But how can Henry be persuaded to save a world that seems to contain nothing but suffering for everyone on it? Does saving humanity mean letting them be destroyed, or forcing them to continue their pitiful lives?
1. We Are the Ants begins with a quote by famous sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke, “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” Why do you think the author chose these words to be the first that you see? What does it tell you about the story that is to come? Does your understanding of the quote change throughout the course of the book?
2. Why is the book called We Are the Ants? What relation does Henry’s hypothetical ant have to the human race? How does all this fit into Henry’s overall theory on the purpose of life? Does the meaning of Henry’s statement “We are the ants” change from the beginning of the book to the end?
3. Henry says of Jesse: “He didn’t kill himself because of a single overwhelming problem; he died from a thousand tiny wounds.” What are some of these tiny wounds? Why does Henry blame himself for Jesse’s suicide? What effects does the suicide have on Henry’s life now?
4. Nobody seems to understand why Henry allows Marcus into his life. What does Henry see in Marcus that the others can’t? Are there any other reasons that Henry thinks he should be with Marcus? Why is Marcus attracted to Henry? How does their relationship change over the course of the story?
5. In the doomsday scenario “The Meteor,” Frieda Eichman watches the meteor named after her father destroy the earth, and she whispers a phrase in German that translates to “I’ve missed you so much, Papa.” Do you think she regrets naming the meteor after her father? What does it mean to her that the world is ending? Do any of the other characters in the book have similarly fraught relationships with their fathers?
6. Why does Audrey want Henry to be part of her life again? Why does he continue to push her away? What do you think is the turning point that allows them to be friends again?
7. Why do science and math appeal to Henry so much? What do these two subjects offer that he doesn’t get from the other aspects of his life? How does his interest in science help him deal with all the things that happen to him?
8. How does Nana describe her Alzheimer’s disease? How does Henry feel about her decline? What effect does her disease have on the different members of Henry’s family?
9. Henry comes up with a number of different possible doomsday scenarios for how the world could end. What does his ability to think up all these catastrophes tell you about what kind of person he is? Do any of the scenarios reflect on how he feels about his fellow man? Do any of these seem likely to ever happen?
10. How does the nickname “Space Boy” impact Henry’s life? What things—good or bad—come from his reputation? Does it have any effect on his ability to form new relationships?
11. Immediately after Henry is attacked in the shower, he says, “I wish I were dead. Because you can only die once, but you can suffer forever.” Do you think he truly believes this? What events from his life would lend credence to this statement?
12. Why does Henry agree, at one point, to press the button if the sluggers don’t make him return to earth? Why do you think they do not agree to this proposition? What do they offer him instead?
13. What do Diego’s paintings reveal about his past and his emotional state? Is there another way that Henry could have learned so much about Diego? Does Diego’s painting of Henry capture who he is? If so, how?
14. Diego does not believe in letting the past define him, instead choosing to focus on the moment he’s in and what he can make of his future. Does Henry agree with this philosophy? What does Henry stand to lose if he lets go of his past?
15. Does Henry believe that there is a pattern and a meaning to life? In what ways would believing in fate help him deal with his emotions? Do his views change over the course of the book?
16. Why doesn’t Henry push the button when he is first given the choice? At what point does he change his mind? What makes him decide that the world is worth saving? Would Henry’s friends and family have pressed the button?
17. Which of the people in Henry’s life have abandoned him? Why does he feel responsible for these desertions?
18. How does the prospect of being a father change Charlie? Do Henry’s attitudes toward Charlie also change during the course of the story? How does the addition of Zoey change the family dynamic?
19. At one point, Henry says that Jesse was “definitely the best of me.” Why would he think that? What do you think is the best part of Henry? What would his friends and family say is his best quality?
20. What do you make of the document that Henry turned in for his Chemistry extra credit assignment? Why did he turn that in? Is this what Ms. Faraci had in mind for the assignment? Was Henry emotionally ready at the beginning of the story to share his thoughts and experiences with his teacher?
21. Discuss your thoughts on the book’s ending. Were the sluggers real? Did Henry have a chance to change the world?
1. Jesse isn’t able to conquer his demons, and chooses to end his life. Find out if there is a suicide hotline or some sort of peer counseling group in your area with which you can volunteer.
2. Henry wonders if the sluggers communicate through the secretion of chemicals like insects, or through codified movements like bees. Choose an insect or animal, and research how they communicate. Write a short essay about your findings.
3. Write your own end-of-the-world scenario, like those that Henry imagined. Can you also think of a solution to your doomsday scenario? If so, write it into the ending of your story.
4. Henry is bullied by his fellow classmates—particularly Marcus—and it makes his life miserable. Do you have an anti-bullying initiative at your school? If so, how can you support these efforts? If not, come up with a plan to combat bullying and propose it to your counselor or principal.
5. Create a self-portrait that captures a significant moment in your life, your emotional state, or your true essence. You can use paint, like Diego does, or choose another medium, such as drawing, photography, collage, etc.
6. Henry’s extra credit project takes the form of a journal. If you do not already keep a journal, start one now. Keep track of the events in your life and how you feel about them.
7. Astronomy is an important part of Henry’s life, helping him make sense of what’s happening to him and his place in the world. Choose a topic from the world of astronomy to learn more about, and write a report about what you discover.
8. As baby boomers get older, more and more people are suffering from Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association is doing excellent work, raising funds and doing research. Find your local chapter and pitch in. And learn more about the organization: http://www.alz.org/.
9. Henry’s mom is a trained chef, but it’s not until the end of the book that she begins to take pleasure in cooking again. Choose a dish that you’ve never made before, and learn to make it. Or, if you’ve never cooked before, try taking a cooking class to learn the basics!
Guide written in 2017 by Cory Grimminck, Director of the Portland District Library in Michigan.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Guys. This book. OMG this book. See the beautiful cover? Despite how beautiful this cover is, it does not do this book justice. I don't think any cover really truly could. THIS BOOK IS JUST THAT GOOD. If you haven't figure it out yet, I absolutely loved this book. I have been raving about it since I read it. I have been telling everyone that I know that they need to read it. Now I am here telling you. This book. It is hard to put words to it. It is beautiful. It is heart wrenching. It is mind blowing. So what is this book about? It is about Henry. Henry gets abducted by aliens. The aliens have told him he has until January 29, 2016 to choose if he wants to push the button. If he pushes the button, he will save the world. If he doesn't, the world will come to an end. At a point before the story begins, Henry's boyfriend committed suicide. He left no note, nothing. Now Henry is in a secret relationship with his arch nemesis. People ridicule him. Call him Space Boy and his home life is far from perfect. So much happens in this book. There are certain parts of it I would love to tell you about, but can't. Once you do read the book though, please feel free to contact me so we can discuss the brilliance of We Are The Ants. There isn't anything I didn't like about this book. The pacing was fantastic. I loved the characters. I felt very connected to Henry. We Are The Ants contains a story that is going to stick with you for a long time after you finish. Please read it. And please come find me when you are done so we can talk about it. My Rating 5 Stars! This review is based on an eARC provided by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Find more of my reviews here: http://readingwithcupcakes.blogspot.com/
I NEED MORE! I went into this story not knowing anything about it but I was hooked from start to finish. The character voices and relationships had me laughing out loud within the first 25 pages, and continued to keep me laughing thoroughout. I'll be picking up more of Shaun's work ASAP.
This book was relatable, and I couldn't put it down. I would recommend it to anyone!
Absolutely stunning. Brought me to tears in some parts, and made me laugh out loud in others. There is so much meaning to this book, and I love it to pieces. Definitely recommend it to everybody.
Best book of all time.
What would you do if you were able to save the planet from being destroyed by aliens? That's a decision Henry had to make in this book. It was very witty and sarcastic in the beginning and that definitely drew me in. It touches on homophobia and exploring one's sexuality which is also a plus about this book. I think it really looks at the bigger picture and about how we are all minuscule in the universe and we are just one planet in one galaxy. I think that bigger philosophical question weighs on Henry's mind throughout the book and it keeps you guessing until the very end.
Really? A book about aliens? Yes. It is about aliens. But this book is so much more. Please do yourself a favor, and buy this book. The amazing cover does not do this incredible book justice. The characters are hard not to love (especially Nana, as my grandmother also has Alzheimers). Even more amazing than the characters is the plot. The right amount of mystery mixed with the harsh reality of high school creates one of the more heart-wrenching books I've ever read. Buy the book.
WOW. The story is so good! Great characters. It makes you wanna read the book again and again. I'll be reading it again soon. Just finished today. Hope there will be a movie based on this book in the future.
This book was many things: an existential crisis of a high school boy, a saga of grief after the suicide of a boyfriend, a horrific tale of bullying, and a beautiful love story. Henry Denton is abducted by aliens periodically from the time he is 13. The “sluggers,” as he calls them, take him back to their ship and run experiments on them. Most recently they have told him that the Earth is going to be destroyed on January 29, 2016 unless he presses a button to make the “sluggers” stop whatever catastrophe is coming. Seems pretty straightforward, right? Just press the button. Sadly, not. Henry has had a rough life, and he’s just not sure he should let humanity carry on. The novel spans roughly 6 months – the time Henry has to make his decision. During that time we get a pretty clear picture of Henry’s past, and we learn the present state of his life and the lives of those around him. This book was hard to read (well, listen to). I felt bad for Henry as horrible thing after horrible thing happened to him. I enjoyed his family’s dynamics though. His grandmother, mother, and brother were all interesting and complex characters. They had their own struggles and challenges, but yet they knew instantly what they’d do in Henry’s situation. There are also some great friendships in this book. Henry’s ex-boyfriend’s best friend (and his good friend), Audrey, was insightful and sweet and fiercely loyal. Henry’s new friend, Diego, is talented and passionate and has a complicated background of his own. I enjoyed the chronicles of their friendships, but ultimately this book kind of dragged for me. The various end-of-the-world disaster descriptions interspersed between chapters were rather interesting, but I just wanted to know what Henry was going to do. And, honestly, as a mother, I just wanted someone to rescue him – stop the bullying, help him understand that Jesse’s suicide was not his fault, and force him to realize that life was worth living. http://opinionatedbooklover.com/review-we-are-ants-by-shaun-david-hutchinson/
Henry Denton is like an angel sent from God. Shaun David Hutchinson in my opinion has created a piece of practically heaven. So I bought this book a while back and I loved so much that I actually took time off of all my other books just to read this one. Let me rephrase that. I WORSHIP THIS BOOK AS IF IT IS LIKE A GOD OR SOMETHING. I recommend this book to ANYONE who asks me about it and I could go on and on about how much I love it. Shaun puts his heart and soul into this piece of practically heaven and Henry Denton will forever be in my heart. I will never forget this book it's my favorite one out of the hundreds of books on my shelf and anyone who sees this book should buy it. I love this book so much it's in my art woke, I'm making a fan art for it and no matter how hard I try I cannot find a book as perfect as this one. It teaches and defines the lines of that love has no gender and that the past is the past and Henry shows that through everything that he does whether it's the end of the book or the middle. Although I do not recommend this book to like kids under the age of maybe like 11 or 12 just because it's a little on the more adult side, everyone on this planet should read this book I miss it like something died and I want it back like so bad I could cry because I'm all done with it and this is a little long but my love for this book is like so immense that I will probably re read it around a thousand times before I know all the lines. Definitely read this this book if you need a new one to totally get lost in and never come out of that world like book hangover all the way. 10 out of 10.
You know you really loved a book when you find yourself immediately tracking down other books by the author. What a book this was! I wasn’t sure what to expect from this story, but I admittedly had high expectations from all the glowing reviews. There aren’t many reviews, but the ones that do exist are damn perfect. This was a really honest, interesting, and heartbreaking book. It covered every possible topic, fully fleshed out every character, and made me feel all sorts of things. I admittedly do not read a lot of books that fall under the QUILTBAG umbrella, and I plan to change that this year. Really. I think that books about coming out are REALLY important and helpful to those in that situation, but there is much to be said about books that don’t involve that element of the community. It was nice to read a book like this, where the character was already out to his family and it was really never brought up as an “issue.” (You know what I mean; I don’t know what other word to use there.) I could spend all day talking about the characters. Talking about what Henry went through on a daily basis. Talking about the people who hurt him, supported him, and/or loved him. This book seriously broke my heart on most pages. I really believed his struggle and was so emotionally invested in this story. The whole premise is that aliens have given him the power to push a button and save the world. For most people, the decision is easy – of course you press the button. For him, it’s a little more complicated. When reading his story, you really can’t blame him for not wanting to save everyone. People are terrible to him. This story was a bit crass and honest and – I’ll say it for a third time – heartbreaking. Even if the synopsis sounds bizarre to you, I recommend reading the first page or two. It’ll grab you and hold you until it’s over – I promise.
I recently got myself a Nook Glowlight Plus as an early graduation gift to myself, and found myself purchasing this book within five minutes of booting up. I read the entirety in just over 30 hours and could hardly put it down. Simple, utterly human writing mixes with complex, utterly human characters to create an enviroment that was just as heartbreaking as it was healing. You'll fall in love with Henry, Audrey, and Deigo again and again, and you'll grow to miss Jesse as if you had lost him too.
This author is amazing! Its not too focused on the sci fi, and was easy to read. This author was amazing, I was crying at some points of it. I hope to see more from this author. I was so touched by this book, it really made me rethink life. Must read. I really thought he wrote like John Green. WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR??? GO READ!!!!
A very good YA read that can be enjoyed by adults. Not a sci-fi despite the aliens (they're kind of a metaphor). Uptight people will not like this book because of the language, drug references, and frankness about homosexuality. But cool people will know why all that stuff is there.
I have mixed feeling about this book; I was pumped about it as it seemed to have many of the things I loved inside of it. It had imagination, it had heartache, it had friendships, and it had characters who were trying to find themselves. What I liked most about this novel was the characters, the secondary characters. I believe that they completed the story for me. There were plenty of these characters to choose from inside this story such as Henry’s brother and his girlfriend, Charlie and Zooey, who were dealing with their own crisis. It was Zooey’s happy and optimistic outlook that influenced others and her boyfriend Charlie; he was still young at heart and was trying to find a balance between adulthood and his youth. Grandma, oh I loved Nana. Her illness was taking her mind but she still had moments where she still present and able to connect with others. The times when her disease had taken her mind, I had to laugh, I know that I shouldn’t but what she said or she did was just not expected. Audrey, the more I got to know her, the more I liked her and thought what a great friend she would be for Henry. She was everything a best friend would be and as I read, I was moved at what had transpired between them. Diego, I thought he had potential, if only someone would give him a chance. Marcus, I disliked him from the moment that Henry introduced him. As Henry built his relationship with him, I cringed as I thought in the back of my mind something was not right with this guy. I just don’t like cocky-guys. That leaves me with Henry, the main character. I was annoyed with Henry. I got tired of him contemplating his end-of-the-world issues. It seemed relentless and I know it was a huge issue for him but he could have tried something else besides just thinking about it over and over again. Should I end the world or not, should I end the world or not, should I end the world or not? It just got old to me. Buddy, make a list with the positives and negatives and think it over. Roll some dice. I also thought he was a bit judgmental with others in his relationships with them. I feel that he expects everyone to be open and honest about everything yet he doesn’t do this himself and later, when everything gets laid out the table, he is the one with the hurt feelings. What about them Henry? I did feel sorry for Henry as he was bullied for most of his life and it ate at him. It tore him apart inside and tried to appear tough on the outside but if you knew him you saw he was crumbling. I thought the writing was good but there were parts I thought that just dragged on.
This book came highly recommended by a few blogger friends and I was a bit hesitant. I vaguely recall reading the premise and while I was intrigued, I didn't request it. It didn't sound like something I would love. Oh man, I was so wrong. Henry is a fantastic MC. His inner monologue is realistic and maybe a bit graphic, but I was absolutely captivated from the first page. I couldn't wait to get his story. There are some interesting secondary characters and a lot of them needed several junk punches. I loved Audrey and Diego, but seriously wanted to kill Charlie and Marcus. The plot is interesting and heartbreaking and sweet and horrifying and I loved every single page of it. I'll definitely be looking at other titles by Shaun. **Huge thanks Simon Pulse and Edelweiss for providing the arc in exchange for an honest review**
A stunningly beautiful and brilliant book. I read this entire book in just one sitting because I could not put it down (though I did have to stop reading a couple times because of the tears). Shaun David Hutchinson gets better and better with each and every book.
While they are also very different books, this book was in a way reminiscent to More Happy Than Not, which is a compliment since I really like that book. Both the books were contemporary with a slight twist and they have MCs who are gay boys. Also, they both don't shy away from having parts that are brutal. I really liked this book. It was interesting with the part about the end of the world, and not knowing if it was actually real or not. Henry was a really great main character. I grew to love him a lot over the course of the story. He was bullied at school and it could be tough. While Henry was gay, the majority of the bullying to did not seem to be directly homophobic. In fact, the fact that Henry was gay seemed very matter-of-fact and not a big deal. Instead, the bullying seemed to be because his brother had told the school about Henry's encounters with aliens, so the kids made fun of him and called him "Space Boy." A lot of times the bullying was through words, but there was also a physical violent assault that was not good to read about at all. One of his main bullies is Marcus and I very much did not like Marcus. The strangest thing about Marcus was that he and Henry had a enemies with benefits kind of relationship, and he was still such a jerk. Then sometimes he would act nice and sincere, and I never really knew which was the real Marcus. But by the end, I knew I definitely disliked him. Diego and Audrey were both characters that I liked. Diego had just come to Henry's school. He and Henry pretty quickly became friends, and Henry developed feelings for him, and I won't say whether or not they were reciprocated. Audrey was friends with Jesse, who was Henry's boyfriend and committed suicide, and she also was friends with Henry because of Jesse. She and Henry had kind of stopped being friends after Jesse's suicide but they became friends again in this book. Henry's brother Charlie was an interesting character. He was basically a jerk at the beginning of the book but he grew and matured a lot over the course of the book, especially when he got his girlfriend pregnant and decided he really wanted to be a dad. If you like YA contemporary, read this book.
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