Book Review: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Here is a direct text message from yours truly to my bookish friend last night: I’m reading this book called Grosshopper Jungle about a 16 y/o [boy] sexually confused between his girlfriend and his best friend in the midst of life size insects destroying the world. LSD much?

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I feel like you can’t describe Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith without sounding completely ridiculous which is why I was drawn to the novel in the first place. I have being meaning to pick up this book ever since one of my fellow book clubbers expounded upon its amazingness. When I saw Andrew Smith in the line up for the Decatur Book Festival I decided it was time to take the plunge.

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Our main man is Austin Szerba, a young Polish historian in the making who lives in the dying town of Ealing, Iowa. He is in love with his girlfriend Shann and thinks about having sex with her all the time – all.the.time. Austin is also in love with his best friend Robby and needless to say Austin is very confused about his situation. One night a literal series of unfortunate events leads to the beginning of the end of the world. Austin and Robby are skateboarding in the alley behind a rundown strip mall when they are beat up by four guys for being queer. The pair return later that night to retrieve their shoes tossed onto the roof by the assholes. They witness the same bullies stealing a pulsing, glowing orb from the pawn shop where Austin works. The self contained terrarium is accidentally dropped and shatters in the alleyway. The substance within mixes with Robby’s blood on the pavement from the fight earlier and unleashes the genetically engineered giant grasshoppers of death. The situation then snowballs even further out of control.

The downfall of Ealing at the pinchers of giant grasshoppers is interspersed with Austin sharing the history of his family and town and of course the analysis of his feelings for Robby and Shann. We hear about how confused Austin is the entire novel and come to think of it I’m pretty sure he’s still confused at the end of the novel which concludes five years later. I would have liked to have heard even more about the grasshoppers and less about Austin’s inner conflict. By the end of novel, I (and Rob) realize how selfish Austin really is, he is more concerned with his own happiness and sexual fulfillment than either Shann or Rob. It was pretty disappointing actually.

Austin tells his stories in a similar fashion to Jim Dale’s narration of Pushing Daisies – “The facts were these…” However Austin’s detailed histories of his relatives and the townspeople of Ealing are repetitive and by the end of the novel I was skimming the parts that were repeats of histories already shared earlier in the novel. I think this might have been a case of having my expectations set too high. Grasshopper Jungle was certainly an entertaining read but I was looking for a bit more substance and conclusion to both conflicts – Austin’s sexual awakening and the giant ass insects killing everyone!

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