(Press play above to hear a sample of Grasshopper Jungle. It is from our upcoming podcast with Andrew, releasing Tuesday, Feb. 11)
In the small town of Ealing, Iowa, Austin and his best friend, Robby, have accidentally unleashed an unstoppable army. An army of horny, hungry, six-foot-tall praying mantises that only want to do two things.
This is the truth. This is history.
It’s the end of the world. And nobody knows anything about it.
You know what I mean.
Funny, intense, complex, and brave, Grasshopper Jungle brilliantly weaves together everything from testicle-dissolving genetically modified corn to the struggles of recession-era, small-town America in this groundbreaking coming-of-age stunner.
Wow, that was fun. This unsuspecting title by an author I’d never heard of about a mantis-apocalypse hitting small town Iowa stole my interest from beginning to end. Grasshopper Jungle is the funniest book I’ve ever read. It also portrays the best friendship I’ve ever read. The narrator, Austin, is complex, unwilling to look at the world the way society wants him to, and plays the perfect part of historian, recording two events that alone could make great books, but which together fit perfectly into a story that blends the horror of an apocalypse with the emotional turmoil of a 16-year-old in love with both of his best friends.
Austin’s observational nature takes the narrative from first person to a god’s eye view with ease. While the recording of his and the people of his town’s genealogy can rabbit trail, they often end in a hilarious joke or a profound experience which fits an underlying message about humanity that I’m still trying to get a grip on. The book discusses how bugs do only two things, eat and procreate, and a question subtly posed throughout is whether humans are any different. Austin is a horny, selfish teenager, fighting himself to become more than just a bug. The open exploration of his sexuality may not appeal to everyone, but I found his honesty fascinating.
That’s the thing I loved most about Grasshopper Jungle, Austin’s honest, eye-opening experience. One of his best friends, Robby, is an open homosexual. I loved how Austin loved his friend regardless. Their friendship was beautiful in this way. Austin struggles with his feelings about Robby, especially because he loves his girlfriend just as much. This conflict and how he has no one to talk to about his confusion is the center and most interesting aspect of this story.
The six-foot-tall mantises roaming around killing people plays a strong secondary plot and the author does a fantastic job recognizing this aspect as secondary. Their takeover and the mystery behind how Austin and Robby will try to stop them is exciting and horrific, but is summarized well enough to show us the danger without taking us from the central narrative of what Austin will do to keep his two best friends.
Grasshopper Jungle has made me a big fan of Andrew Smith. His narrative is so easy to read. The humor, emotion and adventure all work so well together to making this book one I couldn’t put down. His story telling style is unlike anything I’ve read, with its heart-bleeding honesty and ease of blending story with humor. As soon as I finished Grasshopper Jungle, I picked up his darker tale, The Marbury Lens. I look forward to catching up on all of his books.
Timothy C. Ward has been podcasting since 2010, first as AudioTim, and now with AISFP. His first publication, Cornhusker: Demon Gene (A Short Story), is available on Kindle for $.99. His novel in progress, Kaimerus, is described as “Firefly crashes on Avatar and wakes up 28 Days Later.” Sign up to his author newsletter for updates on new releases.