“Grasshopper Jungle”


This is one of those books that seems to defy a compact and tidy review. So please, bear with me while I try to convey the weirdness and brilliance that is Smith’s latest outing. For sure, Smith is a brilliant storyteller. I feel absolutely confident that his writing can stand on its own next to great modern writers like Vonnegut. Other editors and authors are hailing this work of his a “masterpiece” and I’m inclined to agree. (It also won the Michael Printz award this winter.) He paints a vivid picture of 21st century America at the same time that he chronicles one hormonally-challenged adolescent facing the end of the world surrounded by 6-ft-tall mutant grasshoppers. I know, I know, but it works.

This book of his also reminded me of Libba Bray’s “Going Bovine” and Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” because of its grand scope and quirky, dry humor. Older students who read “Holes” may also enjoy the way the protagonist weaves his own daily struggles into the ever expanding “spiderweb” of his family history. As with so many great YA reads, this is part end-of-the-world story and part coming-of-age. But it is so, so much more. For starters, it’s hilarious. Protagonist Austin Szerba is a mouthy, smart, funny, irreverent 16-year-old living in middle of nowhere Iowa. He thinks about sex a lot. A lot. He and his best friend have just accidentally unleashed an unstoppable army of bugs on the world. It’s over-the-top and absurd. But it’s poignant and heartwarming, too. There are some great moments of love, friendship, and compassion throughout. Austin is at once cocky and confused, and his very authentic voice never falters.

I recommend this book to older high school students and young adults (15+) for its frank discussions of sexuality, drug use, and language. Adult audiences who enjoy sarcastic wit and a fantastic sucker-punch ending will also enjoy.

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