Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
Grasshopper Jungle is a weird book in many ways. Not only is it literally weird (it is a book about a giant 6-foot praying mantis invasion, genetically modified testicle-dissolving corn, a secret underground bunker for humanity to reproduce itself in and a dog that’s lost its bark), but it is also literaryily weird. That is, it’s hard to define. The marketing team must’ve realised that too, because it has been toted as appealing to fans of John Green, Stephen King and Michael Grant. It doesn’t really narrow down what readers ought to expect from the novel, but what transpired was one of the most moving, gross and groundbreaking books in YA today.
Austin, our protagonist, is as sexually confused as the novel is genre confused. He is in love with his girlfriend, Shann, and also his best friend, Robby Brees. He is also incredibly horny (his words, not mine) and much of the book centres around him coming to terms with his conflicting feelings. The story takes place in Ealing, Iowa, and opens with Austin and Robby getting beat up by local bullies for being gay (which, as Austin continually points out, he is not sure that he is). Austin and Robby’s shoes are thrown up onto the roof of the town antique store, so they break in later that night to go and retrieve them.
What they find is not antiques or shoes. There is a giant glowing orb of photo-luminescent mould which, after accidentally being unleashed on the very bullies that robbed the boys of their shoes, turns them into giant praying mantises. Austin soon realises that 6-foot giant praying mantises only want to do two things: reproduce and eat, and it is all he and his best friend Robby can do to try and save the world.
A 6-foot praying mantis invasion is not generally something that would attract me to a book, but Austin narrates his tale in such a poignant, darkly comic way that genre and content almost become irrelevant. Sci-fi and fantasy use the fantastical and the unreal to draw comparisons with our day-to-day lives, and Andrew Smith so perfectly captures the essence of human nature, its flaws and its complications, through the voice of a horny teenage boy trying to save the world from giant insects.
Some critics have kicked up a fuss at the sci-fi elements of the novel, labelling it ‘crack science’ and ‘totally stupid.’ Okay, so it’s probably not very likely that a scientist was able to create a species of unstoppable insect soldiers out of blood and corn and semen (that is, unfortunately, what it boils down to), but the nature of the genre itself asks people to suspend their disbelief, and the dubious science behind the concept doesn’t detract from the plot. Austin’s voice is so relatable and human that everything else falls by the wayside.
Grasshopper Jungle is so odd and gross and honest. It’s a surprising and refreshing read in a market so saturated by Dystopias and vampires and all the other mundane tropes that have been done to death. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while, and your review reminded me why! It seems like an excellent example of a book that can be disturbing and great at the same time.
Yes you definitely should! It’s such a fun blend between outlandishly weird and relatably human
“I’ll get to it eventually!” she said, desperately hoping that she would live forever so that her promise to read yet another book wouldn’t be a lie.