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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

I read somewhere that human beings are genetically predisposed to record history. We believe it will prevent us from doing stupid things in the future.

This is my history.

There are things in here: babies with two heads, insects as big as electric guitars, god, the devil, limbless warriors, rocket ships, sex, diving bells, theft, wars, monsters, internal combustion engines, love, cigarettes, joy, bomb shelters, pizza, and cruelty.

Just like it’s al
ways been.

Funny, intense, complex and brave, Grasshopper Jungle is a groundbreaking coming-of-age novel about two friends who accidentally bring about the end of humanity.

Released: February 11th 2014    Pages: 388
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile         Source: Library

First Look: ****This book is blinding. If the cover wasn't bright enough, the edges of the pages are lemon yellow. Because obviously, someone at Dutton Juvenile looked at the design of it and said, "You know what?  This book is a maniacal little package already.  Let's make it require people to have therapy and eye surgery."

Apart from this book's bioluminescence (Yes, bio.  I'm convinced that if I put this book under the right kind of light or zapped it with some weird lab ray, it would turn into a giant grasshopper and eat me.), I wanted to read it because it looked absolutely insane.  I loved the bizarre creepiness and mind warp that was The Marbury Lens and Passenger, so I figured Andrew Smith could pull it off again.  And I was right.

Setting: ****It's a small town in rural Iowa.  Not interesting, right?  Except that it was.  Andrew Smith turned a mundane little town into a place full of intriguing people, odd little quirks, and completely random yet somehow relevant tidbits.  It's all in the detail--he turned something ordinary into something that stands out, just by mixing the good with the bad, and making things seem believable.  The more the novel progresses, the more you realize that there's more to the town than appearances suggest, and that maybe there's something darker and more sinister going on.  And that always makes everything more interesting.

Characters: **** Andrew Smith did the same thing with his characters as he did with his setting: he made them feel real through his use of odd little details as well as larger pieces of information.  It's important to know that, say, Austin is confused about his relationship with his girlfriend.  These things define a person.  The bigger things of a person's life, though, are always surrounded by many smaller things--Austin's dog, his favorite place to skateboard, or his love for older music.  It's when authors balance these two things that they  create characters that are likable and three-dimensional.  While there are many levels on which I cannot relate to Austin or Robby, as I don't have their problems, I can still relate to him on a human or teenager level.

In the end, that's all that really matters in a character.  You don't have to be going through the same things.  You just have to be able to feel for this person, to understand their emotions.  Andrew Smith has again proved how good he is at this, just like in The Marbury Lens.   

Plot: ***** The first 100 pages or so of this book are deceptively normal.  It makes you think you're reading just another realistic fiction about two friends on the outskirts of high school society.  It's just about them trying to make their dumpy town into something livable, trying to figure out their little love triangle, etc.  Something in the back of your brain is telling you "No, wait for it.  Wait for it.  Don't get too comfortable."  And then it hits you.

Is this a possibly questionable GIF choice, considering this book's subject matter?
And then it gets weird.  Really weird.  It's this roller coaster of bizarre, scary, disgusting, cute, and funny.  It's "Why do I do this to myself?" and "This is awesome!" in the same moment.  Yes, this book is about all the "normal" things mentioned above.  But it's also about terrifying giant grasshoppers and the end of the world.  Except that it gets to the point where you aren't sure if the apocalypse is the grasshoppers or Austin's love life problems.  I love this strange juxtaposition.

Uniqueness: ***** When was the last time I read 388 pages of madness, f-bombs, and grasshoppers?

Writing: ****Austin's narration is up-close and personal.  It feels very raw and almost unedited, in a polished way.  It holds nothing back--every thought, whether it's embarrassing or not, is printed in these pages.  He tells a story is bigger than himself, but it never loses sight of his own personal stake in it.  It's a little omniscient at times, just enough to give out some juicy hint about what will happen later in the book.  I have nothing to criticize.  Andrew Smith can write, everyone.  Just so you know.  He manages to make a statement about so many things, from love to teenage life to the dangers of science, weaving it into the story so seamlessly that you'll hardly know it hit you.  This quote from Robby, actually, sums up the entire book nicely:

“I love how, whenever you tell me a story, you go backwards and forwards and tell me everything else that could possibly be happening in every direction, like an explosion. Like a flower blooming.”  

Likes: The ending did not, in any way, work out like I had expected, but it was still good.  I love when that happens.

Not-so-great: Do teenage guys really think like this all the time? *ducks behind door* *packs bags* *joins a convent*

Overall: This is an insane roller coaster of a book.  It starts out deceptively normal, but it quickly spirals into a madness that's both funny and scary.  The main character, Austin, feels so true-to-life.  His narration holds nothing back, resulting in a book that is raw and honest.  The plot is...well, giant grasshoppers that only want to do two things.  What else can I say?  If you want a book that is both disturbing and thrilling, realistic and fantastical, this is for you.  I almost wish there was a sequel, but the ending makes that a bit difficult.  I shall end with one last GIF describing my reading experience:

Similar Books: It has the same Andrew Smith weirdness as The Marbury Lens and Passenger.  It addresses themes of teen sexuality in a surreal way, like More Than This.  It also reminds me of BZRK, though I'm not sure why.

Blog note: If you haven't noticed, I've added a "song of the week" feature to the bottom of the right sidebar. I'm not quite sure where I'm going with it yet--I put it there because there are so many times when I want to share an amazing song I've found, but have no good place to do it.  If you have a comment about the song of the week, feel free to leave it on whatever post you happen to be on (I'll see it no matter what).  It would be cool to hear your thoughts!   I've actually thought about starting an entirely separate blog where I share songs I've discovered. Does anyone have thoughts about that? Tumblr or Blogger? Would you follow it?
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