Thursday, January 22, 2015
Info: Dutton Juvenile, copyright 2014, 388 pages
Sixteen-year-old Austin Szerba interweaves the story of his Polish legacy with the story of 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 sic-fright journey of survival, sex, and the complex realities of the human condition.
Have you ever liked something, and not liked it, all at the same time? Have you ever been completely befuddled by a book, but can't really figure out why? Have you ever wondered what in the world an author is trying to accomplish and what state of mind they were in when they sat down to pen their novel?
Grasshopper Jungle left me with all of those questions and more. It's weird. It's quirky. It's rather naughty. And it's completely demented. And I liked it, and didn't, all at the same time.
Austin Szerba is a boy that thinks a lot. He probably thinks way too much to be honest. He is a worrier. He is a dreamer. And he is a historian, recording the daily happenings of his life and his family legacy in the books he keeps in his room. Austin is also a teenage boy, preoccupied with sex and confused by the conflicting feelings he feels toward his best friend Robby.
One night, after being beaten up in Grasshopper Jungle, a back alley perfect for skateboarding and the collection of junk, Robby and Austin sneak into the local consignment shop and stumble upon a number of glowing oddities, including a local plague that spawns the creation of human bug hybrids. And that's where the book gets really weird.
Author John Corey Whaley's blurb at the back of the book connects Smith's writing to Vonnegut. I'm not a huge fan of Vonnegut, but I, too, saw some similarities. Repeating phrases, obsession with sex, and similar storytelling techniques. It's there without having to search for it.
Whether you enjoy the book or not, there's no denying that Andrew Smith is a unique voice. He taps into the mind of a teenage boy rather well, and he refreshingly doesn't shy away from the tough questions.
This is a story of the end of the world. It's a story of friendship, and love, and the legacy of family. And it's a story of giant mantises who have two things on their minds...
"And that was our day. You know what I mean."