Buy Grasshopper Jungle
Special price $15.50 Regular price: $18.99
Publisher: Dutton Books
Reviewer: Melissa on February 17, 2015
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
In the small town of Ealing, Iowa, something weird happened. Austin and his best friend, Robby, have accidentally unleashed an army with unstoppable power. An army of horny, hungry, six-foot-tall preying mantises that only want to do two things. In Andrew Smith’s Printz Honor book, Grasshopper Jungle, readers are in for a funny, intense, and complex book that is unlike anything else they’ve ever read. This is the truth without a capital “T.” This is the history of the apocalypse. It’s the end of the world, as we know it. And, unfortunately, nobody except Austin and Robby know anything about it. You know what I mean…
I think I’m a little lame. I mean, after reading only the first few pages of Grasshopper Jungle, I thought, “I don’t know if this book is for me.” See…kinda lame. The only saving grace is that after those few pages I realized that even though Austin’s voice is really unlike mine, he – and by extension, Smith – is really funny. Once Smith had me laughing, it was much easier for me to connect with Austin, the challenges he’s facing personally, and the larger, surreal landscape in which him, Shann (Austin’s girlfriend), and Robby (Austin’s best friend) live or, at least, surreal in a sense.
Ealing, Iowa is a fictional town, but the recession that has been threatening it is something that readers from all over the US, especially the Midwest, will recognize. Everything from the nearly empty suburban mall and the graffiti that turned Stan’s Pizza into Satan’s Pizza to the cheesy business names, stereotypically Ealing character names, and the eviction notices that cover more and more apartment doors at the Del Vista Arms apartment building are recognizable experiences. Which is good because a lot of the other events in this book would be completely unrecognizable. It’s possible that readers have seen preying mantises before, but I highly doubt they were of the 6’ tall variety…except maybe in your nightmares.
While extra large bugs might be the stuff of nightmares, the ones in Smith’s novel aren’t scary in the horror novel sense. From the, generally, humorous tone of the novel and Austin’s voice, the scary things about this novel have nothing to do with things that either go bump in the night or make the reader call out, “Don’t do it!” Rather they’re more akin to the questions that the reader is forced to contemplate regarding human experimentation and the dark, mad mind of a scientist, who doesn’t see anything wrong with performing them because he thinks he’s a kind of god. In other moments, Austin’s attempt at delivering a true and complete history of his experience in a post-apocalyptic world from a time in the future means that there is a distancing effect that negates a large part of the horror of this world. Rather than placing readers right in the midst of the end of the world, Austin uses an often-humorous tone and always an impersonal, almost academic way of looking at the situation…if adding in tons of swearing and sexual thoughts could be academic. So yeah, it’s hard to explain this weird, weird novel. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth reading. If anything, it means that there are more reasons to read it because it’s a story that I can guarantee you haven’t read before.
Beyond everything that I’ve already mentioned, the best thing about Grasshopper Jungle is that Austin is a real character with the thoughts, uncertainties, and mind of a teen boy. In particular, I loved that this is a story about LGBTQ teens that doesn’t pigeon hole Austin into any one category while he still works out who he is. Moreover, while it’s a story that contains LGBTQ teens, it’s not about any of them coming out or discovering their sexuality. It’s the end of the world, and some of the kids just happen to be attracted to more than one person, to more than the heteronormative gender, and that feels fine to me.
If you’re looking for something different, then Grasshopper Jungle should be the next book added to your TBR list.
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