by Andrew Smith
Publisher: Dutton Books
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.
It’s not often that I really struggle to get through a book, and after months of looking forward to reading this book, I hated the fact that I was disappointed. But it wasn’t because I think that this was a bad book; quite the opposite, actually. I think that GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE was a very good book, it just wasn’t the kind of book that appeals to me, it wasn’t the kind of book that I thought it was.
I went into this book somewhat blindly. I knew that it was about some weird “End of the World” situation involving giant grasshopper-like beings, and I was quite looking forward to the weirdness involved in that—any book involving weird, crazy, ‘Who Even Thinks Up Ideas Like This?’ situations are a definite YES in my bookisphere! I heard a lot of people saying it was one of the craziest book they’ve ever read, and I can agree that it was fairly crazy. But it wasn’t the kind of craziness that I’d been led to believe it was. In fact, there was no real imminent “End of the World” danger in front of the main characters eyes until very late on. I had been under the impression that the entire novel involved these grasshopper-beings, but that wasn’t the case, unfortunately. The book focuses a lot more on the characters, and their relationships with each other, especially the main characters feelings towards both his girlfriend and his best friend (Again; not that this is a bad thing, it’s just not what I was expecting).
Throughout the book there is a lot of emphasis on history. The main character, Austin, often refers to himself as a historian, writing down the history of the present as it happens and making sure to include every small, grizzly, seemingly-unimportant detail because, as we can see throughout history so far; history is written in emphatic ways. Historians don’t tend to document every single detail. And so Austin wants to make sure everything is written down, because every part of the story needs to be filled in. In theory, and upon reflection, I appreciate that aspect of the book. I thought that was one of the strongest themes running throughout. What I didn’t enjoy was the way in which it was delivered. A lot of the historical information (the history of Austin’s family) was given to us at relevant times, and the history tied into the present, but I felt like I was being bombarded with the information quite a few times, and not given enough time to digest it before the story moved along. It did make for some fast paced, page-turning chapters, but I found myself having to go backwards a fair few times. What I found the most fascination about this, though, was the way in which Andrew Smith slid history together with the present.
However, I did begin to really enjoy the plot as the story went on. Despite a few problems I had with the pacing of the book, when the aforementioned “End of the World” situations did begin arising, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought of what was going on, as well as keep reading to see what was going to happen next. Without getting into spoilers, I loved when Austin, Robby, and Shann found Eden and got changed into the jumpsuits before watching the movie reels (the movie reels being another way in which Andrew Smith cleverly intertwines history, present, and future). I loved the parts where Austin would begin to narrate by saying things like, “At the time Robby and I done X, Shann Collins was doing Y, and somewhere in Ealing, Johnny McKeon had just Z”*, weaving together a whole picture of what is going on. But at the same time, I sometimes fell out of the loop with what was going on, and that’s one of the reasons I think I lost interest throughout the read. I’d end up so confused as to what was going on, and the story would be so far away from me that I just felt like putting the book down.
In the end, I appreciated this book for what it was, somewhat more than I enjoyed it. Looking back on it, I can see why it’s such a highly-rated book and why it’s so popular, and I can’t find any reasons to diminish its success. For me, the writing was a bit convoluted and the pacing was a bit off, but that’s a personal thing. The themes of the book are definitely well presented and thought-provoking, and the plot is definitely messed up in the most wonderful way. I gave this book a 3 out of 5, and I wouldn’t tell anyone not to read it. If anything, the most I’d say is to make sure you know what you’re getting in to when you start reading it. Read away and enjoy it, because it is a good book, and I will be checking out some of Andrew Smith’s other books after having read this one.
*obviously this wasn’t an actual excerpt from the book