Posted by : Deborah Takahashi Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Plot Summary:
When the economy crashed in 2008, Eailing, Iowa turned into a ghost town when the Eailing mall went out of business. For Austin and Robby, the mall is now Grasshopper Jungle where they spend most of their time skating through the abandoned structure and hanging out in the alley to smoke cigarettes. Although the mall is gone, the most popular places in town is the consignment store, From Attic to Seller and Tipsy Cricket Liquors run by Johnny McKeon, who is the grandson of the infamous Dr. Grady McKeon (Grady McKeon started out with defense contracts and eventually moved into manufacturing household items). Austin and Robby have been best friends for quite some time and they have an unbreakable bond that is confusing Austin quite a bit. However, Austin is dating Shan McKeon, Johnny McKeon's stepdaughter who he loves very much and want to get physical with. In fact, Robby taught Austin how to dance just so he could ask Shann out so why is Austin attracted and in love with both of them? Austin is struggling with some very issues and the only person he can rely on for advice is off is in Afghanistan fighting terrorists and he has no idea how to talk his father about his predicament. Meanwhile, after getting beat up for the last time, Robby and Austin uncover a secret that Johnny McKeon has been hiding in his office, which contains the recipe for world annihilation. However, the ones responsible for releasing the end of the world were the same people who have terrorized Robby and Austin, which takes Robby, Austin, and Shann to an underground shelter called Eden, beneath the McKeon mansion. What did Grady McKeon invent that would warrant this massive underground shelter and how the heck are Robby and Austin going to solve this rather "giant" problem? The answer is: paintball guns, blood, lemur masks, and whole lot of cigarettes.   

Critical Evaluation:
Wow. Where do I begin! Although the bigger picture is about saving the world from giant mantis' and staying alive, there are two additional stories going on at the same time that reveal the insanity of the human existence. Between Austin's story, readers will learn about the Szerba family and how everyone's individual story, and struggles, reflects upon Austin and contributes to his dilme: is he gay or straight. I will honestly say that amongst the absurdity of the giant bugs, introducing the story of a teen boy questioning his sexuality is not absurd at all. In fact, this whole story is about the various types of love that we all encounter and that love has very different outcomes. For example, Austin loves Robby in a way that is unconditional and never ending (it transcends love for family, friends, etc.) and, as for Shann, Austin's love is passionate and sexual that also goes beyond friends and family. Although Austin does daydream (frequently) about a threesome between him, Robby, and Shann, I believe Austin wants to bring these types of love together to make him feel complete. In many ways, readers will empathize with Austin, in the sense, that he wants to feel whole. Granted, if Austin didn't have to worry giant bugs taking over the world, I believe he would have found someone who could satisfy him on both levels and not just one, bu, alas, it just wasn't meant to be for Austin.  However,  Austin has diverted all of his strength and attention into the upbringing of Arek so maybe it doesn't really matter in the end. This is such a complicated, emotionally driven, testicle-laden and crazy story of today's adolescent males that kind of makes me glad I am a woman and a grown-up
Information about the Author:
According to the author's website:
Andrew Smith is the award-winning author of several Young Adult novels, including the critically acclaimed Grasshopper Jungle (2015 Michael L. Printz Honor, 2014 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Carnegie Medal Longlist) and Winger. He is a native-born Californian who spent most of his formative years traveling the world. His university studies focused on Political Science, Journalism, and Literature. He has published numerous short stories and articles. The Alex Crow, a starred novel by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist, is his ninth novel. He lives in Southern California.

Teen Contemporary Fiction, Teen LBGTQ Fiction, Teen Dystopian Thrillers

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 10 & up

Books Similar to Grasshopper Jungle:
  • Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King
  • More Than This by Patrick Ness
  • I'll Give Your the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Awards & Recognition:

A literary joy to behold. . . . reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, in the best sense.”
The New York Times Book Review

"This raunchy, bizarre, smart and compelling sci-fi novel defies description – it's best to go into it with an open mind and allow yourself to be first drawn in, then blown away."
Rolling Stone

“[Grasshopper Jungle] reads more like an absurdist Middlesex… and is all the better for it. A-”
Entertainment Weekly

 “Nuanced, gross, funny and poignant, it's wildly original.”
The San Francisco Chronicle

“If you appreciate kooky humor, sentences that bite, and a nuanced understanding of human beings’ complicated natures and inexplicable actions, then you, too, will love Smith’s bold, bizarre, and beautiful novel.”
The Boston Globe

“The end of the world comes with neither a bang nor a whimper but with a dark chuckle and the ominous click-click of giant insect mandibles in this irreverent, strangely tender new novel by Andrew Smith. This but hints at the intricately structured, profound, profanity-laced narrative between these radioactive-green covers.”
The Washington Post

“Andrew Smith’s writing grabs you. He takes phrases and turns them into recurring motifs that punctuate the story, until by the end you start to expect them, maybe even mutter them to yourself. And the way that he takes all these seemingly disparate plot strands and weaves them together is masterful… Once you get lost in Grasshopper Jungle you won’t want to be found.”—

 “No author writing for teens today can match Andrew Smith’s mastery of the grotesque, the authentic experiences of teenage boys or the way one seamlessly becomes a metaphor for the other.”
BookPage, Top February Teen Pick

"A meanderingly funny, weirdly compelling and thoroughly brilliant chronicle of ‘the end of the world, and shit like that’...a mighty good book."
Kirkus, starred review

"Filled with gonzo black humor, Smith's outrageous tale makes serious points about scientific research done in the name of patriotism and profit, the intersections between the personal and the global, the weight of history on the present, and the often out-of-control sexuality of 16-year-old boys."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Original, honest, and extraordinary… pushes the boundaries of young adult literature."
School Library Journal, starred review

Grasshopper Jungle plays like a classic rock album, a killing machine of a book built for the masses that also dives effortlessly into more challenging, deeper regions of emotion. Above all else, when it's done you want to play it all over again. It's sexy, gory, hilarious, and refreshingly amoral. I wish I'd had this book when I was fifteen. It almost makes me sad that it took twenty years to finally find what I'd been looking for.”
—Jake Shears, lead singer of Scissor Sisters

Grasshopper Jungle is a cool/passionate, gay/straight, male/female, absurd/real, funny/moving, past/present, breezy/profound masterpiece of a book.  Every time you think you've figured it out, you haven't.  Every time you're sure Andrew Smith must do this, he does that instead. Grasshopper Jungle almost defies description because description can only rob the reader of the pleasure of surrendering to a master storyteller.  Original, weird, sexy, thought-provoking and guaranteed to stir controversy.  One hell of a book.”
—Michael Grant, New York Times bestselling author of the Gone series

“I found myself saying over and over again, ‘Where in the heck is he going with this?’ all the while turning the pages as fast as I could. Mostly I kept thinking, This was a brave book to write.
—Terry Brooks, author of the Shannara series

“Andrew Smith is the bravest storyteller I know. Grasshopper Jungle is the most intelligent and gripping book I've read in over a decade. I didn't move for two days until I had it finished. Trust me. Pick it up right now. It's a masterpiece.
—A. S. King, Printz Honor-winning author of Ask the Passengers and Please Ignore Vera Dietz

“In Grasshopper Jungle, it’s as if Andrew Smith is somehow possessed by the ghost of Kurt Vonnegut. This book is nothing short of a brilliant, hilarious thrill-ride that is instantly infectious. But, the most beautiful thing about Grasshopper Jungle has nothing to do with the absurd or out-of-this-world. It is the deft hand by which Smith explores teenage love and sexuality that is truly breathtaking. In writing a history of the end of the world, Smith may have just made history himself.”
—John Corey Whaley, Printz Award-winning author of Where Things Come Back

“Grasshopper Jungle is about the end of the world. And everything in between.”
—Alex London, author of Proxy

“Austin’s narrative voice fizzes with catchphrases that keep the reader on track as he dives into history and backstory. His obsessively repetitive but somehow endearing style calls to mind Vonnegut and Heller. This novel approaches its own edge of sophisticated brutality, sensory and intellectual overload, and sheer weirdness, and then jumps right off.”

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Deborah Takahashi
Pasadena, CA, United States
My name is Deb and I am a Librarian who absolutely loves to read and recommend books to teen and tween readers. In this blog, you will find reviews on a variety resources ranging from books, movies, video games, and much more. Please feel free to leave any feedback, especially book recommendations!
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