Wednesday, 5 March 2014

REVIEW: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Title: Grasshopper Jungle
Author: Andrew Smith
Publication Date: February 11th, 2014 
No. of Pages: 388
Publisher: Electric Monkey
Source: ARC
SUMMARY- 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 sci-fright journey of survival, sex, and the complex realities of the human condition.

I don’t know what to say… honestly, I’m pretty lost for words about this book. Actually, that’s not exactly true, my brain is full of a cacophony of thoughts on this book, none of which make the smallest bit of sense, but primarily, the question I asked myself once I finished GJ and the question I’m still asking myself is; “Who the hell is he?” And when I say he I’m referring to Smith, the author. 

That was basically my brain when I realized the direction the book was going... e.g. after the third chapter.

             Like, one minute he’s writing about horny six-foot people eating mantises and then at the end of the effing book there’s a normal as acknowledgements page, seriously, I am still utterly confused about this book, but one thing I know for certain is that it is absolutely, without a doubt, epic.  And again I ask, “Who the hell is this man?” This creator of such an original novel, and of which its likeness I have not seen before. Sure we've all read apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic books, but you will never have read one like this. I’m telling you, it’s weird as fudge, wonderfully written, the style is so amazing, honestly, and why can’t all authors write like that? 

We all know what YA is, or at least that's what you think. And what I think is that a large part of it is displayed as teen angst; but that really isn't what YA is; the better YA novels are those that are about identity and trying to figure out where you stand in the world. Grasshopper Jungle is about scientific experimentation (which obviously brings about the end of the world... twice) but also physical experimentation between teenagers and finding their sexual identity. Austin is confused in the book, between being in love with both of his best friends; Shann Collins (a female), and his girlfriend from seventh grade, and Robby Brees (a male), not knowing if he's homosexual like Robby or bisexual etc. 
           At the same time Austin re-counts his and his gay best friends present history - where they come across an experiment from the 70's and re-start it, of course causing the end of the world (for the second time!) - but also the history of his ancestors, starting from his Polish great-great-grandfather, Krzys Szczerba, and his immigration to America, and everything that happens onward. Including his son's - Austin’s great-grandfather - settlement in Iowa. Because of this experiment their town is overrun by 6-foot tall praying mantises, which hatched from various citizens in the Iowan town after they were infected with the "plague". And here's the kick, they only do two things; "eat and fuck". 

Really how I felt after reading the last page. 
This book has been quite a... strange experience, but I don't regret it at all. From the structure and format I'm pretty sure this novel is now literary YA, no matter the content, explicit or otherwise. The author’s representation of Austin's voice is just perfect; we can really get inside the characters head and his obsession with history and being a historian. A quote near the end of the book really caught my eye; "I always bring back books for the library. Books have everything in them. After the end of the world, you cannot learn a goddamned thing from a computer or a television screen." This is absolutely true, of course. I'm a big believer in preserving history, recording it, and keeping books as a thriving type of "media" - although e-books are becoming "all the rage" with a lot of people who don't share the same type of love for physical books that I know a lot of my bloggy friends do; but I want real books, I want that smell. When something goes wrong, we can't really rely on technology. From Austin's point of view everything in history is somehow connected to our present, and in recording history the way he did, he can prevent it from re-occurring.

One thing that I absolutely loved about the book was the chapter titles, every time I finished a chapter I'd flip back and re-read the title, and have a little chuckle of appreciation to myself e.g. Rat Boys from Mars, and an Unfortunate Incident Involving an Inflatable Whale. When first reading, the chapter titles don't seem to have much meaning until you've actually read the chapter, and that's when you realize how perfectly fitting the titles were, and often times humorous. Although I didn't see the connection between comments the protagonist made until about half-way through the book, but once I did it was like there were way too many elements in the book that it shouldn't even be a cohesive whole, but it worked beautifully! 

Basically Grasshopper Jungle in one move...  xD 
Grasshopper Jungle has so much between its pages that I can't even explain it to you if you haven't been wrapped up in its story and read its various repeated comments and ideas. Simply, its the story of a teenage boy struggling to find his identity, the end of the world, and humanity itself. Oh, yeah, and there's various decapitations/entire bodies being eaten... and apart from the alleged "author-being-high-when-he-wrote-this-novel" issue, I think the author is pretty cool too; he even said he was cool with me plotting to swap brains with him... yes, I did tweet him saying that I was plotting to swap brains with him.

To tell you the truth this novel has me in awe... and there's so much more I could say, but I'm going to leave it here, and let you read on for yourself. 
5 Bookish Birds

This was also my first post using GIFS, YAYAYAY! What do you think? Would you like me to use GIFS  more often? It was really fun finding them, especially for such a long review! I think I made you proud Amy!

All images in this post were found on tumblr and are not mine; the summary was taken from Goodreads, as always. 

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