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.
This is all true.
All roads converge at the point of Austin Szerba's pen poised at the top of a blank page in a leather-bound log-book from the 70s, courtesy of McKeon Industries.
Austin Szerba, a cigarette-smoking Lutheran boy, narrates this post-apocalyptic journey of self-discovery and disaster. He is accompanied by his best friend, Robby Brees, and occasionally his girlfriend, Shan Collins, tags along for the ride. Austin thinks he might be in love with Robby Brees. Austin knows he loves Shan. It's all very confusing for Austin.
Except it's not for the reader. The reader perfectly understands Austin's confusion, because we all experience it, too. This is not a cookie-cutter story about the end of the world and being in love. This is a story about how everything can be completely screwed up, but you just have to deal with it and do the best you can.
"What am I going to do, Ingrid?" Austin asks his beloved golden retriever, many times throughout the book.
By the end of the story, Austin still has no idea what to do. And that is real. That is honest. That is how real life works.
The rest of the story has nothing to do with how real life works.
Some scientists at McKeon Industries try to create Unstoppable Corn to fuel the demand during the 70s. Then they try to create Unstoppable Soldiers for the government. They succeed, and proceed to be almost completely destroyed by their creations: six foot-tall praying mantis-like monsters that only want to do two things.
Austin and Robby inadvertently set those monsters loose on the world, and they must fight back to save their friends, family, and the entire planet. Be prepared for the unabashed sexuality of sixteen year-old boys, the carnage of murder and copulation conducted by the Unstoppable Soldiers, and a general whirlwind of insanity. Like Austin Szerba says, "Everything fell into place, all right. But things dropped into place so hard the entire world broke." Austin and Robby broke the world. Along the way, Austin also broke his girlfriend, Shan. But he'll do his best to make things right, and to survive.
What I loved: The characters. Austin and Robby are so real, and so intense. You get a sense of who they are right away, and you fall for them. Robby is charming, and Austin is a lovable mess. Sure, they can be jerks and they make a lot of mistakes. But doesn't everyone?
What I wanted more of: The ending. Everything finished up rather quickly, and that was very disappointing. However, GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE is now out in paperback, with amazing cover art, which means we all have the chance to read it again.
The verdict: GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE is gory and profane, brutal, honest and meaningful, and it is all true. You know what I mean. Watch the end of the world from the eyes of a messed up sixteen year-old boy - you won't get another chance.
A note: Andrew Smith wrote this book not for anyone but himself, and I respect that so much. Make sure you read the acknowledgements page. Maybe read it before you start the book, so you know how it came to exist and why.