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Grasshopper Jungle Hardcover – February 11, 2014
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, February 2014: Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle defies easy description. To say that it’s a wild, over-the-top story of male adolescence, science gone wrong, the end of the world, and giant praying mantises sounds a little bit insane. And doesn’t begin to touch the warm and fuzzy bits (honesty, love, connection) that are a large part of what makes this book great. Narrator Austin Szerba is a unique historian of momentous things, including the nature of history itself, and his chronicle of family, how the end of the world began beside a dumpster in his small Iowa town, and what life is like when you’re sixteen and in love with two people, is something you won’t want to miss. --Seira Wilson
Simmering within Ealing, Iowa, is a deadly genetically engineered plague capable of unleashing unstoppable soldiers—six-foot-tall praying mantises with insatiable appetites for food and sex. No one knows it, of course, until Austin and his best friend Robby accidentally release it on the world. An ever-growing plague of giant, flesh-hungry insects is bad enough, but Austin is also up to his eyeballs in sexual confusion—is he in love with Robby or his girlfriend, Shann? Both of them make him horny, but most things do. In an admittedly futile attempt to capture the truth of his history, painfully honest Austin narrates the events of the apocalypse intermingled with a detailed account of the “connections that spiderweb through time and place,” leading from his great-great-great-grandfather Andrzej in Poland to Shann’s lucky discovery of an apocalypse-proof bunker in her new backyard. Smith (Winger, 2013) is up to his old tricks, delivering a gruesome sci-fi treat, a likable punk of a narrator, and a sucker punch ending that satisfyingly resolves everything and nothing in the same breath. Grades 9-12. --Sarah Hunter
Top customer reviews
Austin's Polish ancestors wandered the Old and New World until they found Ealing, IA, and because of them the world ended. Because of Austin and his best friend Robby, the world ended in the clutches of six-foot tall Unstoppable Soldiers that resemble huge praying mantises.
But this is really a story of friendship, and love, and family. And history. Austin sees himself as a historian. He chronicles his days in words and pictures. He tells the truth. He observes. But, he tells more than he observes, because: "This is how history works: it is omniscient. Everyone trusts history. History is unimpeachable, sublime. It is my job." His history fills in the blanks, because that's what historians do.
He is in the middle of serious teen soul-searching, and his honesty is both hilarious and heart-breaking. But at the same time he feels impelled to tell us the history of the end of the world. His heart tries to make sense of it all, and his honesty demands he look at his life with clear eyes.
One of the themes of this book is similar to FRANKENSTEIN, and JURASSIC PARK, as expressed by Dr. Ian Malcolm. I paraphrase: "You were so interested in whether you COULD do this, that you never stopped to think about whether you SHOULD." Of course, Austin states it with his precise honesty: "History provides a compelling argument that every scientist who tinkers around with unstoppable s*** needs a reliable flamethrower."
Smith fills this book with reflections of storytelling and books and history...Austin is the kind of kid I would have loved to teach and talk to. I would have loved reading his history, if he would share.
My only other Smith novel, STICK, did not prepare me for the humor, the goofiness of this one. I don't think any other book could have prepared me for the scope of a story about a boy, his best friend and his girlfriend in IA who probably caused the end of the world. This is original and amazing.
Shann, Austin's girlfriend, says it for me: "I love how you tell stories. I love how, whenever you tell me a story, you go backwards and forwards and tell me everything that could possibly be happening in every direction, like an explosion. Like a flower blooming."
I consider it my job to tell the truth
History does show that boys who dance are far more likely to pass along their genes than boys who don’t
History chews up sexually uncertain boys and spits us out as recycled, generic greeting cards for lonely old men
Secondhand stores are like vacuum cleaners to the world. They suck in everybody’s s***
History is my compulsion. I see the connections
History also shows there aren’t an awful lot of read friends on the record
History lesson for the day – the more time you wait before telling someone the truth about a secret you’ve been keeping, the longer your path out of the woods becomes
History shows that an examination of the personal connection of the titles in any man’s library will provide something of a glimpse into his soul
Good books are about everything
History provides a compelling argument that every scientist who tinkers around with unstoppable s*** needs a reliable flamethrower
This is history, and it is also the truth
This is how history works: it is omniscient. Everyone trusts history
History is unimpeachable, sublime. It is my job
I love how you tell stories. I love how, whenever you tell me a story, you go backwards and forwards and tell me everything that could possibly be happening in every direction, like an explosion. Like a flower blooming.
Sometimes historians need to fill in the blanks on their own. It is part of our job. You trust us because we are historians. Historians are reliable blank-fillers. It is my job.
All roads cross here on my desk. As a historian I realized that we are all on the same road all the time.
All this time I have been devoting too much thought to the guys who painted the bison on the wall of the cave, and too little attention to the bison itself. I mean, the bison is an important member of the team, isn’t he?
I began to consider the fact that maybe history is actually the great destroyer of free will
All good books are about everything, abbreviated
Histories are actually full of conjectures…[that] become so accepted by descendents and readers that time itself is forced to rearrange its own furniture.
Books have everything in them. After the end of the world, you cannot learn a god damned thing from a computer or a television screen.
Sixteen-year-old best friends Robby Brees and Austin Szerba are growing up in the small town of Ealing, Iowa. There isn't much to do, so the boys mostly skateboard and smoke copious amounts of cigarettes. Robby is gay; Austin is in love with his girlfriend, Shann, as well as Robby, and that's difficult on all of them, especially considering that nearly everything in the world makes Austin horny.
They start to notice weird things around town—Shann hears a constant ticking noise behind the walls of the new house her family has moved into (a house that originally belonged to her late uncle, who was a scientist, inventor, and entrepreneur in Ealing) and the boys discover the noise is from an antique teletype machine, constantly repeating a warning message that doesn't make sense. And then they stumble upon an underground shelter that is unlike anything they've ever seen, built to protect people from an unimaginable disaster.
But that disaster is no longer imaginable, as the town suddenly is struck by a plague which turns those it comes in contact with into six-foot-tall praying mantis-type insects with insatiable appetites for two things—food and sex. As Robby and Austin discover how this plague came to be, they realize that the future of the human race may depend on them and few additional people, and they figure out how to defeat the insects. But it's a messy (and dangerous) proposition.
Grasshopper Jungle is zany and tremendously entertaining, but as much as Smith's characters like to say "Uh" a lot, and there's a lot of talk of sperm, and balls, and horniness, at its heart this book is about the beauty of friendship and trying to be comfortable with who you are. It's also a book about how our histories—no matter how bizarre—affect our lives and our futures.
This is definitely not a book for everyone, but if you are in the mood for a crazy but sweet story and aren't phased in the least by horny, hungry, six-foot-tall praying mantises, or if your inner teenager is looking for a fun read, you'll definitely enjoy this.