Austin Szerba begins with being bullied with his best friend Robby for being “queer” and goes into an exploding story about the end of the world featuring giant, killer grasshoppers. Despite the fact that 6 foot-tall praying mantises are beginning to populate the world with indestructible exoskeletons, Austin can’t help but focuses on his own problems: he’s in love with his girlfriend Shann, but he is confused about his sexual orientation. From contemporary issues to an intense sci-fi journey, Grasshopper Jungle covers it all.
Alrighty, here we go. Review time. Get pumped. It’s late, but it’s still Monday so it counts.
For me the book began slowly. The pages are dense and the premise was startling and I didn’t know if I’d be able to handle the bundle of this large green book. So when the writing style slapped me in the face after the first page, I had trouble diving in after dipping my toes.
But that changed after the first, five(?) pages.
I love, love, LOVED Winger, which is the main reason I sought out this book. I honestly had no idea what it was about when I bought it, and after I read the inside flap I decided that couldn’t be what it was about and continued reading (don’t ask me why– I just decided the publishers decided to print a lie on the inside of their book). Read the blurb and see if you believe it.
So now I’m past the first couple pages and I like it so far. Andrew Smith’s writing style completely changed from the first book I read by him, and that’s what threw me off. He’s actually a very versatile writer because I currently have 3 of his books under my belt and all of them are written entirely different from one another. His style wove first-person contemporary, a confused teenage boy wondering about his sexuality, into beautiful stories about Austin’s Polish ancestry and a narrative about the end of the world. Yet somehow it isn’t confusing at all.
And onto the plot. Yes, I can vouch that it really is about the end of the world via giant killer grasshoppers. Grasshopper Jungle is not a metaphor. Trust me– the disbelief on people’s faces when I told them the plot summary was classic.
“What’s that about?”
“Giant, horny killer grasshoppers who take over the world.”
“Ah– oh, okay…”
I can’t say I loved the ending, though. I won’t give it away, but I felt like it was kind of anticlimactic. I listened to Andrew Smith talk at the Little Shop of Stories a couple days after finishing the book, and he said that he wanted to compare the end of the world to adolescence because that can feel like the end of the world. Which I guess means that I shouldn’t take it too literally.
The character development wasn’t the strong point for me in the book. Austin was well-developed and interesting, but both Robby and Shann seemed pretty flat to me. I thought that their dynamics could be much stronger, but Austin and Robby’s relationship was well-defined in being completely undefined and confusing. There are some chapters in the book devoted to other characters, but I tended to read these a little quicker, mainly because I hated pretty much all the characters. Not for any huge glaring reason– they were just all kind of gross and mean and unlikable. The dirtier side of reality (which Smith also said he likes to write about, so there’s you go).
But really, the subtle lack of likable characters shouldn’t deter anyone from this book. The writing style alone made it pop. He uses italics and repetition and multiple stories and first person and everything is so engaging and explosive instead of the usual linear plotline. Not to mention it’s GIANT KILLER GRASSHOPPERS. If that doesn’t rope you in, then you need to let your inner 12-year-old boy fly a little more.