Extraterrestrials offer depressed, acerbic Henry Denton the chance to save the Earth from certain destruction by pressing a red button.
The stalk-eyed, variably tentacled sluggers' repeated, humiliating abductions and habit of dumping Henry in strange places with minimal clothing make Henry's life tough, but the focus here is less on the aliens and more on the button. Bullied at school, pushed around at home, and reeling from his once-boyfriend's suicide, Henry doesn't think he wants to press it. "If you knew the world was going to end but you could prevent it, would you?" becomes a sort of refrain throughout, and each character who answers not only reveals his or her own carefully imagined depths, but also sheds light on Henry's existential dilemmas. Whether Henry is hooking up in secret with the popular golden boy who torments him in public, watching his beloved Nana lose her memories, or being physically and verbally assaulted at school, at parties, and online, he maintains a biting, vulgar wit. There is both a budding romance and, via Henry's older brother, a baby on the way, but the novel meticulously avoids easy fixes for Henry's nihilism. Instead, his journey is subtle and hard-won, with meditations on the past, the present, and the future that are equal parts sarcastic and profound.
Bitterly funny, with a ray of hope amid bleakness. (Fiction. 14-18)