Book Review: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Posted January 9, 2015 by Lori in Books, Reviews / 3 Comments Tags:

Book Review: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew SmithGrasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
Published by Penguin on 2014-02-01
Genres: Friendship, Science Fiction, Social Issues, Survival Stories, Young Adult
Pages: 441
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
AmazonBarnes and NobleBook Depository

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.

Oh boy, guys. Let me tell you about this book. I really wanted to love this. And I kind of expected to. I knew it was going to be weird going in, I mean it’s about horny giant bugs that want to take over the world. I knew that going in. But I also knew how much I had loved Winger by Smith and how moved I had been by the story and Ryan Dean and the words in that book. I was hoping for something similar, just in a different setting. But for me, it was way way way different. It was too weird, too graphic, and lacked the beautiful character development I remembered from Winger. I was left disappointed and that made me very sad.

Grasshopper Jungle is a story told by sixteen year old Austin. He is a self-described historian and keeps hundreds of journals in his room where he writes everything that happens to him and those around him. He also tells us the history of his family, how they came to be in America from Poland, and ended up in Iowa. He interweaves these stories into the present and continually remarks about how everything comes back together in the end. Which I can appreciate. I like stories that look at how many different events need to line up in order for one future event to happen and how if one of those things had been different, everything would have changed. The whole butterfly effect thing. But the stories about his ancestors just did not interest me at all. And I didn’t feel that the connection to his present day was strong enough to warrant so much talk about them. But that was just a minor annoyance, one I know was my problem and not really something that was “wrong” with the book.

My two real biggest problems were the repetitiveness and crudeness of the narrator. He would literally repeat the same phrases and the same stories over and over again. Each time we got a new piece of the puzzle, he would tell us again what had happen to lead up to that, as if we were too stupid to remember. Or many he was worried we would skim and not catch everything once we knew he’d just repeat it all later? I don’t know. I’m sure it was done to make an impact but to me it was just annoying. Also, I was not a fan of just how crude he was. I know we’re suppose to be inside a sixteen year old boy’s head, so it’s not at all surprising, but I really didn’t need to read about presidents taking a shit or how much pubic lice was on the couch in the field or the word semen about a million times. I know, really I do, that this is my own problem and again not something that makes a book inherently bad, it’s simply one reason why I didn’t enjoy the book. If things like that don’t bother you and you really feel the need to get an in-depth feel for how gross everyone and everything really is, you should read this book. It spares no detail. Especially not in regards to semen.

While I went into this book knowing that it would be weird and different, I really should have prepared myself more for being in the head of a teenage boy. I can handle talk about masturbation and sexual confusion and being horny, but this book was really in your face and excessive about it. Maybe it’s the most authentic narration I’ve ever read, since I’ve never been a teenage boy, I can say that I honestly don’t know. But I can say that I’m very very glad to have never been a teenage boy. Life is so much more difficult for them than you think. Also? I’m really glad I’ve never come face-to-face with a six foot tall praying mantis bug that only wants to eat and f*ck. (Yes, that’s how they’re talked about. Many, many times.) If you want to know why, you should read this book. If this book taught me anything, it’s to avoid bugs and reading the minds of teenage boys.

I wish I liked this book more. I still think you guys should read it if you want to. There are lots of fans of this book on Goodreads and there’s definitely some good stuff in here. It just really, really wasn’t for me. If you can stand the narrator and the writing style, you might actually really like it too. I’m not going to share my feelings on the end because I don’t want to give anything away, but I do thinks there’s room for a lot of interpretation about the end, which I actually think is a good thing. So if this book sounds like something that would interest you, I definitely recommend you pick it up. If you think you’d feel similarly to me about the reasons I mentioned above, I would stay away. Far away.

3 Responses to “Book Review: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith”

  1. I loved, loved, loved Winger so much, too. And I’ve been curious about Grasshopper Jungle, but also nervous because it seems so bizarre. But it sounds like this was a bit disappointing. I’m sorry to hear that, but also not sorry because I don’t know if I would have read it anyway.
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  2. Bummer. I was supposed to read this book for book club this month… but I got sick (and also started reading THE HUNGER GAMES!!!!), so I didn’t get to it yet. I also loved Winger. And I love reading from the POV of teenage boys for some reason… although this book sounds a little TOO much teenage boy. I’ll probably still read it, but at least now I’m prepared for the weirdness and the grossness 🙂
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