Sixteen-year-old Austin Szerba interweaves the story of his Polish legacy with the storyof how he and his best friend , Robby, brought about the end of humanity and the rise of an army of unstoppable, six-foot tall praying mantises in small-town Iowa.
To make matters worse, Austin’s hormones are totally oblivious; they don’t care that the world is in utter chaos: Austin is in love with his girlfriend, Shann, but remains confused about his sexual orientation. He’s stewing in a self-professed constant state of maximum horniness, directed at both Robby and Shann. Ultimately, it’s up to Austin to save the world and propagate the species in this sci-fright journey of survival, sex, and the complex realities of the human condition. – Goodreads
I have no idea where to start with this book. It’s… I just….
First of all… well, it’s a book about giant 8-foot praying mantises taking over the world. Let’s just be up front here – there’s no way that’s not going to be weird. But even if you ignore the bugs (which you can’t because they’re really fucking huge), the book is… odd.
Okay, well let’s begin with the basics of any review. It’s masterfully written. I don’t know many authors who could write a book about a bug-pocalypse and still have me take it even remotely seriously. But Andrew Smith – well, he managed it. This is the only book of his I’ve read so far (though I’ve got Winger, which has now been moved up substantially on the TBR list), so I’m not sure if this book is written in his typical style or if it was unique. But I loved how raw and unflinching the writing was. Not only did Smith touch on topics and ideas that most authors (and readers and just normal people in general) would tend to shy away from, but he walked right up to them and planted a huge sloppy kiss right on their mouths. There are a lot of bits of this book that are awkward and uncomfortable. But at the same time, this was part of what made me respect it so much. Yes, it’s a book about giant bugs. Yes, there are bits that are mind-bendingly, stomach-twistingly weird. But it’s also a book that challenged me in ways I never expected, and that made it special.
Part of what made it work so well was the format of the story. It’s written in the manner of a historical account, complete with omniscient narration. Its narrator is Austin, writing in his journals (we assume about past events). But also, for added flavour, the book goes off on the occasional tangent about peripheral characters and Austin’s own ancestors. Though there’s no way for him to know the things he does about events long past, I don’t care because they added so much to the story. These side-stories are as weird as the main plot. Well, almost. Particularly when we get to the Doctor. He’s the one who started this whole bug situation – and not that it needs stating, but he’s totally crackers.
And all the way through there were these distractions courtesy of Austin’s hormones. It doesn’t matter if they’re skateboarding, on a roof smoking, breaking into a store or being chased by giant bugs – he’s just always horny, and he’s always thinking about and sharing his horniness. Everything makes him want to have sex. It’s actually kind of remarkable.
But okay, I mean the dude’s a bisexual 16-year old with a very handsome boy and very pretty girl who are both in love with him and hanging out with him all the time. Plus the world is being taken over by giant bugs that could eat him at any moment, so it’s kinda now or never. So I guess it’s understandable.
Smith created an interesting cast of characters. Austin, our narrator, is a hapless, sometimes sympathetic, sometimes pathetic, often douchey character. But he doesn’t mean to be a douche. He’s just in this impossible love triangle, and no matter what he does he’s going to hurt someone. He’s also got a mother addicted to “blue kayaks” (anti-anxiety meds), a religious school shaming him for being normal, and a brother in the army. Being your typical teenager, he has absolutely no idea what to do about any of it.
His girlfriend, Shann, is understandably confused by his behaviour. Though she’s not very well developed, I did feel bad for her. But I also didn’t like her very much.
Then there’s Austin’s best friend Robby – good looking, gay, and totally in love with him. He was probably the easiest character to identify with – if for no other reason than he’s a really good friend to Austin, but you spend most of the book feeling like he’s going to get his heart smooshed. (Both literally and figuratively.)
Because I’m an animal person, probably liked Austin’s dog Ingrid most of all – for no other reason than she’s a dog and awwwww.
There are a bunch of minor characters who wander in and out of the story, occasionally turning into a giant bug or getting eaten by a giant bug. They’re not really that important, aside from their status vis a vis giant bugginess.
Though I’ve spend this entire post trying, this is the sort of book I can’t really explain. No, really. I can’t. It’s too strange, and quite frankly, it’s better if you discover it for yourself. You might want a drink or two on standby though, because things are about to get weird.
Good luck. You’re gonna need it.
(Oh, and because I’m not even sure if this post makes sense, let alone helps you decide if you should read this book, I’m going to direct you over to Gillian Berry’s review, which is what convinced me to read this book in the first place and therefore she’s responsible for this ENTIRE FIASCO. Thanks, Gillian.)
Book Title: Grasshopper Jungle
Published By: Dutton Juvenile
Released: February 11, 2014
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, GIANT FUCKING BUGS
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