Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith (2014)

Genre: Science Fiction
Appeal: 14-21
Grasshopper JungleRemember how impressed I was by the reliable science behind The Martian? Yeah, that doesn’t happen here. This can only be described as a darkly – nay, blackly – comic end-of-the-world coming-of-age twisted tale about sexual identity. Sixteen-year-old Austin Szerba is in love with both his best friend Robby and his girlfriend Shann. Still a virgin, he is “so confused” about his sexuality and what makes him horny, because pretty much everything does – a touch from Shann, a kiss from Robby, the thought of a threesome, Robby’s mother, the floor of a laundromat … at the same time, the end of the world as we know it has arrived in Eeling, Iowa, in the form of giant bugs. Deeply aware of his own personal history, Austin has taken on the role of chronicler of the history of the end of the world, and draws incredibly complex connections between his own ancestry and the inevitability of the paths that led to the development of a contaminant strain that turns people into six-foot praying mantises. Hungry ones. Eeling will never be the same, and neither will Austin’s readers. Smith’s writing is brilliant – what appear to be minor events turn into key ones, and Austin’s uncensored history sees sex everywhere (all the bugs want to do is “fuck and eat,” and that rather defines Austin’s view of humans too). Beneath the outlandish science (plant sperm + human sperm + human blood = giant bugs vulnerable to the original human’s blood), cringe-worthy descriptions and a B-movie plot (think Starship Troopers meets Catcher in the Rye), this novel presents a criticism of scientific research motivated by profit, challenges norms of sexuality, ponders the weight of history (I particularly love the idea of discarded consonants as immgrants’ names are Anglicized) and will make you laugh out loud while shuddering at repulsive descriptions of giant creatures biting off people’s heads. I won’t read this again – the mix of teen hormones and graphic descriptions was occasionally a bit much for me. So it’s not for everyone, but if you are still with me at this point, give it a try because most of it is great fun, with moments of thoughtfulness.
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About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

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