Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Grasshopper JungleLynn:  A zillion years ago when I was a teenager, a group of us would gather on steamy Indiana summer nights, make some popcorn and watch the Creature Feature –  usually a corny ridiculous science fiction movie.  The special effects were terrible, the acting just as bad but we wouldn’t miss it.  Now, the parallel I’m making to Grasshopper Jungle (Pengin/Dutton 2014) is not because it is badly written, quite to the contrary.  Instead it is because reading this gave me that same sense of wonderful weirdness as I got watching those late-night black & white screamers with my friends.  We’d laugh and throw popcorn, but honestly…later I’d have nightmares!

So here’s the basics.  Austin Szerba, 10th-grader, perpetually horny, and sexually-confused, writes his history of what happened in Ealing, Iowa when the world ended.  “And no one knew anything about it.”  Austin loves his best friend Robby and he also loves his girlfriend Shann Collins.  Is he gay, is he straight?  Austin agonizes over the question – when he isn’t plotting how to finally have sex or dodge bullies.  Ealing is a dying town.  The major business has closed leaving most out of work and buildings boarded up.  Austin works for Johnny McKeon, Shann’s stepfather, and one night he and Robby sneak into Johnny’s office to see why he keeps it locked up.  And there they find a collection of sealed glass globes and specimen jars from the now defunct McKeon Industries.  The jars contain REALLY weird S*&T, one of them is labeled “Unstoppable Soldier – Strand 4-VG-12.  Something happens and all hell breaks loose.

It’s hard to categorize this book.  It is coming-of-age, search for identity, science fiction, horror, comedic.  It is the exploration of profit motive and corporate greed, fate, the interconnectedness of every action, and a celebration of life.  It is gross, gory, profane, sensitive, hilarious, observant and thought-provoking.  It is brave and it is honest – and it gave me nightmares.  So pop some corn, sit back and enjoy.

Cindy: I can’t help but think Andrew Smith just emerged from a Christopher Moore pupa and bit the head off of YA literature as we knew it. History will show that this is a special book. With its neon yellow page edges and its lime green cover you won’t miss it on the bookstore or library shelves. The minimalist cover art is fantastic too and has lots of room for award stickers. Let’s fill it.

I’m with Lynn, this book is difficult to describe. I tried to write up some additional critique for you. “It was not a good idea.” Here, instead, are a few quotes that I marked while I was reading.  (You can read more by following main character @AustinSzerba on Twitter.)

As our heroes hide in a subterranean shelter called Eden that is equipped with everything they will need to survive for years they realize it is missing one thing: a television set: “New Humans would be without commercial television. Maybe there was hope, after all.”

“I began to consider the fact that maybe history is actually the great destroyer of free will. After all, if what we blindly believe about history is true–the old cliche admonishing us to learn how not to repeat the same shit over and over again–then why do the same shitty things keep happening and happening and happening?”

“Good books are always about everything.”




About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

1 Comment on "Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith"

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  1.' anne says:

    Thank you for the horror movie connections. One of my favorite movies as a child was Attack of the Crab Monsters. After a nuclear explosion giant killer crabs decapitate humans and eat their brains, absorbing and incorporating memories and characters.

    Later as a film student I realized that this was Roger Corman’s first film.

    Obviously Andrew Smith has been eating the brains of the smartest, funniest, and most twisted humans.

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