Grasshopper Jungle is so weird. I can’t really think of a better way to describe Andrew Smith’s latest YA novel, but in addition to being weird, it’s also funny, endearing, creepy, and just plain entertaining. For example, here’s the end of the book’s prologue:
There are things in here: Babies with two heads, insects as big as refrigerators, 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 there’s always been.
And Grasshopper Jungle definitely delivers on all of those things and more. The book’s main protagonist is sixteen-year-old Austin Szerba, who records everything that happens in his life in composition books he keeps piled in his closet, so that if the end of the world ever comes to pass, people can find his notebooks and see what life was like in the desolate, fictional town of Ealing, Iowa. Life in Ealing isn’t very exciting, and Austin, his best friend Robby Brees, and his girlfriend Shann Collins, are hard-pressed to find things to do to pass the time.
After being beaten up one day by boys from a neighboring high school and having their shoes and skateboards thrown onto the roof of From Attic to Seller Consignment Store, Austin and Robby sneak onto the roof and then into the store. They discover dismembered body parts in owner Johnny’s office, and after a string of unfortunate events, the two of them accidentally release something known as Contained MI Plague Strain 412E, which turns people into giant, carnivorous praying mantises intent on taking over the world.
Wonderful, yes, very good.
As well as dealing with said praying mantis mutants, Austin is also struggling to figure out his sexuality. He admits many times to loving Robby, who is openly gay, as well as being jealous of Robby and Shann because in his words, they know who they are. Grasshopper Jungle discusses sexuality in a refreshingly honest way, and makes it easy for readers to relate to Austin’s confusion.
These two plot devices seem like they’d be a complete train wreck if crammed together into one book, but Smith pulls it off extremely well. He’s created a crazy world in Grasshopper Jungle, one that readers won’t want to leave, and luckily, they won’t necessarily have to—Edgar Wright, the man behind cult classics like Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, has been hired to direct the book’s film adaptation, which I’m so, so excited for.
If you want to check out Grasshopper Jungle, though, I’d recommend getting a copy of the book. The audiobook’s narrator, Philip Church, didn’t impress me much. His voice was very monotonous, and although he channeled Austin’s bluntness well, his attempts to differentiate the characters was more distracting than anything else, especially since he seemed to have trouble keeping their voices sounding consistent every time.
Story: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Narration: 2 out of 5 stars
Allison Racicot is the Audiobook Reviewer at Girls in Capes. She’s a recent graduate of Emerson College in Boston, and has a degree in Writing, Literature, and Publishing. She spends too much time listening to podcasts and getting overly attached to fictional characters.
If you like Girls in Capes being rabblerousers, Allison’s also got a fun post on all the women in Sam and Dean’s refrigerator.