Title: Grasshopper Jungle
Author: Andrew Smith
Format: Paperback, 384 pages
Publication: February 17th 2015 by Speak (first published February 1st 2014)
Source: Bought from National Book Store
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary, Science Fiction
Other classifications: Apocalyptic, LGBTQIA, Weird, Young Adult
This is the truth. This is history. It’s the end of the world. And nobody knows anything about it. You know what I mean.
In the small town of Ealing, Iowa, Austin and his best friend, Robby, have accidentally unleashed an unstoppable army. An army of HORNY, HUNGRY, SIX-FOOT-TALL PRAYING MANTISES that only want to do two things.
At least once in our lives, we become so confused in and with everything. With our identity, our sexuality, how we make sense of what’s happening around us and how it affects us while also trying to figure out who we are and what does that mean. This is at the core of Grasshopper Jungle, Andrew Smith’s 7th novel, which is also a Michael L. Printz Award nominee.
“”Sometimes I’m confused,” I said. “Actually, pretty much all the time I am. I wonder if I’m normal.””
Smith is many things, but what he does best is writing complex teenage boys. Andrzej Austin Szczerba is our narrator. He, his best friend Robby, and girlfriend Shann witness the end of the world, where hungry, horny, six-foot-tall Mantis-like bugs are involved. Austin is flawed and almost always thinks of the stuff boys think, but he’s young and is threading waters. In that way, Grasshopper Jungle wins. It excels in capturing the inner battle of who-am-I-what-do-I-want-what-could-I-do everyone of us fights or at some point fought. This universal subject is what makes the book an intimate experience. And Smith’s use of monosyllabic reactions like “uh” and “um” is so on point.
“Okay, at times, can effectively serve as the closing curtain to difficult teenage conversations.”
Grasshopper Jungle also champions two other topics: weird YA and bisexuality. What’s horrifying about this piece of literature is not the ginormous bugs who only like to do two things, it’s the “deranged carnival sideshow.” The disturbing tableaux of where humanity may lead to, or maybe have. Smith offers his readers a freak show of macabre human psyche and he does it with no reservation whatsoever. And the portrayal of one character’s bisexuality is just realistic and I think it comes from a place of sensitive observation. Because, clearly, Smith is not bi. But his character undeniably is. Plus, the book does not shy away from vulgarity. It actually has one graphic, explicit sex scene but the author handles it well.
“I consider it my job to tell the truth.”
The biggest drag, however, in this novel hitting full circle of genius is the narrative style. Austin is a historian. He records events in his notebooks. The book, Grasshopper Jungle, is filled to the brim with too many facts. And, while every single one of these is relevant to the story by rights and manages to resurface in forked roads, it’s often distracting. I find the reiteration of certain things gratuitous, and by the nth time I was told that Andrzej Szczerba—whose American name is Andrew Szerba—is Austin’s great-great-great-grandfather, I was weary.
“I love how you tell stories. I love how, whenever you tell me a story, you go backwards and forwards and tell me everything else that could possibly be happening in every direction, like an explosion. Like a flower blooming.”
But I still recommend this title, especially for fans of honest, candid coming-of-age tales like The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Grasshopper Jungle is wild, daring and introspective if in places tedious.
Andrew Smith knew ever since his days as editor of his high school newspaper that he wanted to be a writer. His books include Grasshopper Jungle, Winger, and 100 Sideways Miles. Smith prefers the seclusion of his rural Southern California setting, where he lives with his family.
I cheated. My photo is recycled. I disappoint myself. Have you read this book? Have I convinced you to? Who are your go-to authors for Weird YA? And, OH, since Grasshopper Jungle is about the end of the world, name three writers you’d want in your team when this happens!