Thursday, April 10, 2014

Grasshopper Jungle

Grasshopper Jungle
Andrew Smith
Dutton,2014  380 pgs
Grades 9+
Science Fiction/Humor

16 year old Austin and his best friend, Robby, go skateboarding and smoking, as usual, behind a dying strip mall in their dying town in Iowa.  They get beaten up by a gang of bullies, who accuse them of being homosexual.  This act leads to a string of events and coincidences resulting in the end of the world.  The end of the world, according to Smith, comes in the form of indestructible giant insects who's only instincts are to eat and breed.  Austin and Robby, along with Austin's girlfriend, Shann, discover a hidden bunker beneath Shann's silo belonging to a long-dead scientist and his defunct research laboratory.  The bunker is called "Eden" and is perfectly conserved from its 1970's conception.  Through watching the tapes hidden in the bunker, the teenagers discover the history behind the development of the insect soldiers and are instructed by the mad scientist to "breed" for they are the future of humankind.  Austin, all the while combating his confusing sexual feelings for his girlfriend, his best friend, and basically everyone with a pulse, must work with the others to figure out a way to kill the insect soldiers and save the earth. 

The Grasshopper Jungle has amazing reviews.  I have to agree with the quality of the writing.  It was one of the best written YA books I have ever read.  I read The Marbury Lens by Smith when it first came out in 2010.  It made me so upset that I had to stop reading it.  Then I became so worried about the main character that I had to pick it back up and finish it.  The whole time I read that book, my skin was itchy.  Once I finished it I thought "WOW!" and vowed to never read another book by Andrew Smith.  The excellent reviews of Grasshopper Jungle lured me back into his web.  This book was much less intense than his first, but was still uncomfortable for me to read, yet amazing.  This book was actually funny.  Not ha-ha funny, but cleaver funny.  It was in the same style as Kurt Vonnegut; witty with overlapping connections, themes, and expressions.  The plot moves along at a quick pace and it is very hard to put down.  My main complaint is that, although it is clearly a book written for teens, I personally wouldn't recommend it for teens.  The main characters are teenagers and the sci-fi action of the swiftly moving plot would appeal to teens.  Yet the complexity and sophistication of the writing would appeal more to college students.  The language was strong throughout.  The book was extremely sexual, mirroring the typical thoughts, I'm assuming, of a 16 year old boy.  I felt it was too over the top for teen literature.  I would never use this book in teen book club or, as a parent, put it in my kid or any kid's hands.  The Grasshopper Jungle pays homage to the 1970's and it feels like a piece of literature that came out of that time, such as books by Vonnegut or Tom Robbins.  Smith does have a handle on the teenage brain.  The lines are blurring in today's teenagers between bi-homo-hetero sexuality and this is reflected in Austin's constant obsessing.  Just when you think there is nothing new to come under the sun, along comes Andrew Smith.  I love that it was a dystopian novel that was so different than the other hundreds I have read in the past couple of years.  I love that it is not part of an obvious trilogy and has a real ending.  I love that Smith respects and challenges his readers and isn't afraid to push the envelope.  I think the book will deservedly win awards.  It was just a little too much for me. 

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