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Grasshopper Jungle
     

Grasshopper Jungle

4.2 13
by Andrew Smith
 

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A 2015 Michael L. Printz Honor Book
Winner of the 2014 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction

“Grasshopper Jungle is a rollicking tale that is simultaneously creepy and hilarious. It’s propulsive plot would be delightful enough on its own, but Smith’s ability to blend teenage drama into a bug invasion is a literary joy to behold

Overview

A 2015 Michael L. Printz Honor Book
Winner of the 2014 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction

“Grasshopper Jungle is a rollicking tale that is simultaneously creepy and hilarious. It’s propulsive plot would be delightful enough on its own, but Smith’s ability to blend teenage drama into a bug invasion is a literary joy to behold… Smith may have intended this novel for young adults, but his technique reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s in “Slaughterhouse Five,” in the best sense.” New York Times Book Review
 
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 from the author of The Alex Crow and Winger

 

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Clive Thompson
…many science fiction and fantasy novels have a similarly bi-layered structure, using the surreal to comment on the real. They're genres in which allegory and metaphor are often deployed with pneumatic intensity…Done poorly, steroidal allegory produces some pretty hammer-headed prose. But when it's done well, it is sheer poetry. Andrew Smith does it astonishingly well. Grasshopper Jungle is a rollicking tale that is simultaneously creepy and hilarious. Its propulsive plot would be delightful enough on its own, but Smith's ability to blend teenage drama into the bug invasion is a literary joy to behold…Smith has a deep and rare respect for how sheerly weird the sexuality of teenage boys can be.
Publishers Weekly
★ 11/04/2013
Assuming the role of a historian (a wildly obscene historian), 16-year-old Austin Szerba chronicles the end of the world as it begins in his small Iowa town. Austin is in love with two people—his girlfriend, Shann, and his best friend Robby; neither of them is okay with it but, as Austin frequently repeats, “I was so confused.” This confusion worsens when a series of missteps results in the propagation of six-foot tall, superstrong, mantislike Unstoppable Soldiers that portend a new world order on Earth. Sex is everywhere in this novel (only some of it involving humans), but Smith (Winger) describes it in purposefully clinical and utterly unromantic terms, making connections between the Unstoppable Soldiers—who “wanted only to fuck and eat”—and human beings, whose preoccupations aren’t, perhaps, so different. 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. Ages 14–up. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
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.

—Geekdad.com 
 
 “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.”
BCCB
 
 

Children's Literature - Lois Rubin Gross
Here is the high concept description of Grasshopper Jungle: horny teenaged boys confront giant Preying Mantises created, fifty years before, by a deranged scientist in a small Iowa town. Fortunately, there is more to this darkly humorous book than that abbreviated summary. Austin Szerba and Robby Brees are best friends in the blip-on-the-map Iowa town of Ealing. Austin dates Shannon McKeon but harbors romantic feelings for Robby and is conflicted about his latent homosexuality or bisexuality. Robby is not at all conflicted. There is a painfully slow build-up to the boys’ discovery of the remnants of Shannon’s step-uncle’s experiments, which created a species of “superbugs” designed, during the Nixon administration, to wipe out Communists, liberals, and hippies, among others. This plotline actively emerges precisely at the halfway point in the book. Until then, Austin obsesses about his sexuality, the number of incidents of masturbation in which he engages, and his brother’s recent injury in Afghanistan that has taken half of his leg and his testicles. Finally, at the mid-point, the giant mantises emerge to devour the population and procreate in massive numbers. Austin, Robby, and Shannon discover an underground survival shelter and a video legacy from the deranged scientists setting out his plan for ending the world by bug consumption and repopulating the world with the inhabitants of the shelter, now called Eden. In the manner of 1950s movies, the boys discover that Robby’s blood is the ultimate weapon against the bugs while Austin and Shannon follow the mad scientist’s design to procreate. Author Smith has a particular cadence that falls between rap and the Old Testament’s “begats.” However, it is a book to be handed out with discretion. Do not worry, though: young readers will discover this book by word-of-mouth and demand it for a surprisingly intelligent, if graphically explicit, laugh. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross; Ages 14 up.
Voya Reviews, April 2014 (Vol. 36, No. 1) - Allison Wang
Grasshopper Jungle is light in tone despite the dark events in the book, and it manages to weave questions about identity into the action of the plot. Austin’s omniscience in the book, though not quite believable, ties together the story well and justifies the salvations and deaths of the characters. Overall, Grasshopper Jungle is a well-written book that balances Austin’s experiences, his questions, and the lives of other people. Reviewer: Allison Wang, Teen Reviewer; Ages 15 to 18.
Voya Reviews, April 2014 (Vol. 36, No. 1) - Lauri J. Vaughan
Fifteen-year-old Austin Szerba is an historian; Grasshopper Jungle is his history of the end of the world—a demise he and best friend Robby Brees inadvertently unleash on their home, Ealing, Iowa. Austin is in love with Robby. He is also in love with his girlfriend, Shann Collins. He is deeply confused. Being beaten by a local team of bullies does not help. Neither does the hatching of giant, man-eating bugs, a biological defense project buried in Ealing’s past that goes terribly wrong. It turns out that Austin and Robby have discovered the only hope of stopping the growing army of mantis-like monsters. Luckily, Shann has found an underground bunker, built by the same madman who engineered the bugs, where a small band of refugees stays safe and from which Austin and Robby can launch an offensive. Several times in his history, Austin writes, “Good books are about everything.” Smith, speaking through his narrator, has neatly summed up a body of literature that precipitates readers’ thinking about much more than the text before them. He has also achieved it. To describe Grasshopper Jungle strictly as a coming-of-age story, a suspense-filled horror tale, or anything else, for that matter, sells it short. In the tradition of Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick, Smith has wrapped big, unresolved questions in a compelling and exciting story told by an unforgettable character. Grasshopper Jungle, with its raw descriptions and frank language, is not for everyone. But Smith’s mix of humor, insight, and story construction—and, most importantly, the remarkably drawn personality of Austin Szerba—should compel readers to look past genre boundaries. Reviewer: Lauri J. Vaughan; Ages 15 to 18.
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-11-17
A meanderingly funny, weirdly compelling and thoroughly brilliant chronicle of "the end of the world, and shit like that." This is not your everyday novel of the apocalypse, though it has the essential elements: a (dead) mad scientist, a fabulous underground bunker, voracious giant praying mantises and gobs of messy violence. As narrated by hapless Polish-Iowan sophomore Austin Szerba, though, the "shit like that" and his love for it all take center stage: his family, including his older brother, whose testicles and one leg are blown off in Iraq; his mute, perpetually defecating golden retriever; the dead-end town of Ealing, Iowa; his girlfriend, Shann Collins, whom he desperately wants to have sex with; and most importantly, his gay best friend, Robby Brees, to whom he finds himself as attracted as he is to Shann. His preoccupation with sex is pervasive; the unlikeliest things make Austin horny, and his candor in reporting this is endearing. In a cannily disjointed, Vonnegut-esque narrative, the budding historian weaves his account of the giant-insect apocalypse in and around his personal family history and his own odyssey through the hormonal stew that is adolescence. He doesn't lie, and he is acutely conscious of the paradox that is history: "You could never get everything in a book. / Good books are always about everything." By that measure, then, this is a mighty good book. It is about everything that really matters. Plus voracious giant praying mantises. (Science fiction. 14 & up)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780525426035
Publisher:
Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
02/11/2014
Pages:
400
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.60(d)
Lexile:
910L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.***

Copyright © 2014  by Andrew Smith

Part 1:
Ealing

I read somewhere that human beings are genetically predisposed to record history.

We believe it will prevent us from doing stupid things in the future. But even though we dutifully archived elaborate records of everything we’ve ever done, we also managed to keep on doing dumber and dumber shit.

This is my history.

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 it’s always been.

KIMBER DRIVE

Robby Brees and I made the road the Ealing Mall is built on.

Before we outgrew our devotion to BMX bicycles, the constant back-and-forth ruts we cut through the field we named Grasshopper Jungle became the natural sweep of Kimber Drive, as though the dirt graders and street engineers who paved it couldn’t help but follow the tracks Robby and I had laid.

Robby and I were the gods of concrete rivers, and history does prove to us that wherever boys ride bicycles, paved roadways ribbon along afterward like intestinal tapeworms.

So the mall went up—built like a row of happy lower teeth— grinned for a while, and then about a year ago some of the shops there began shutting down, blackening out like cavities when people left our town for other, better places.

BMX riding was for middle-school kids.

We still had our bikes, and I believe that there were times Robby and I thought about digging them out from the cobwebbed corners of our families’ garages. But now that we were in high school—or at least in high school classes, because we’d attended Curtis Crane Lutheran Academy since kindergarten—we rode skateboards, and also managed to sneak away in Robby’s old car.

We were in tenth grade, and Robby could drive, which was very convenient for me and my girlfriend, Shann Collins.

We could always depend on Robby. And I counted on the hope—the erotic plan I fantasized over—that one night he’d drive us out along the needle-straight roads cutting through the seas of cornfields surrounding Ealing, and Robby wouldn’t say anything at all as I climbed on top of Shann and had sex with her right there on the piles of Robby’s laundry that always seemed to lie scattered and unwashed in the dirty old Ford Explorer his dad left behind.

———

FIXING FEET

On The Friday that ended our painfully slow first week after spring break, Robby and I took our boards and skated through the filthy back alley of Grasshopper Jungle.

Nobody cared about skaters anymore.

Well, at least nobody cared among the four remaining businesses that managed to stay open in the Ealing Mall after the McKeon plant closed down: The laundromat Robby never quite made it to, The Pancake House, and the liquor and thrift stores owned by Shann’s stepdad.

So we could skate there, and did pretty much whatever we wanted to do.

Judging from the empty beer cans, the mysterious floral sleeper sofa we were certain was infested with pubic lice, and the pungent smell of piss in the alley, it was clear everyone else in Ealing was similarly okay with the no-limits code of conduct in Grasshopper Jungle, too.

And that proved to be an unfortunate fact for me and Robby on that Friday.

We had built ramps from sagging flaps of plywood that we laid across a flight of concrete steps behind a vacant unit that used to be a foot doctor’s office.

“Bad business plan,” Robby said.

“What?”

“Fixing people’s feet in a town everyone’s dying to run away from.”

Robby was so smart it hurt my head to think about how sad he could be sometimes.

“We should go into business,” I said.

“Want to have a fag?”

Robby liked calling cigarettes fags.

“Okay.”

There was no way we’d ever sit down on that couch. We upended blue plastic milk crates and sat with forearms resting across our knees while we propped our feet on our boards and rocked them back and forth like we floated over invisible and soothing waves.

Robby was a better smoker. He could inhale thick, deep clouds of cigarette smoke and blow life-sized ghost models of both of us when he’d casually lean back and exhale.

I liked cigarettes, but I’d never smoke if Robby didn’t.

“What kind of business?” Robby said.

“I don’t know. I could write stuff. Maybe comic books.”

“And you could draw me.” Robby took a big drag from his cigarette. “I’d be like your spokes model or something.”

I have to explain.

I have that obsession with history, too.

In one corner of my closet, stacked from the floor to the middle of my thigh, sits a pile of notebooks and composition binders filled with all the dumb shit I’ve ever done. My hope was that, one day, my dumb history would serve as the source for countless fictional accounts of, well, shit.

And I drew, too. There were thousands of sketches of me, of Shann and Robby, in those books.

I consider it my job to tell the truth.

“What, exactly, does a spokes model do?”

“We speak. And look good at the same time. It’s a tough job, so I’d expect to make decent money.”

“Multitasking.”

“The shit out of it, Porcupine.”

Robby called me Porcupine because of how I wore my hair. I didn’t mind. Everyone else called me Austin.

Austin Szerba.

It is Polish.

Sometimes, in wonder, I can marvel at the connections that spider web through time and place; how a dying bull in Tsarist Russia may have been responsible for the end of the world in Ealing, Iowa.

It is the truth.

When he was a young man, Andrzej Szczerba, who was my great-great-great-grandfather, was exiled from his home in a small farming village called Kowale. Andrzej Szczerba had been involved in a radical movement to resist the imposition of Russian language and culture on Poles. Andrzej, like many Polish boys, hoped that one day his country, which had been treated like a sausage between the dog jaws of selfish neighboring empires, would be able to stand on its own.

It was a good idea, but it was not going to happen in Andrzej’s lifetime.

So Andrzej was forced to leave Kowale—and travel to Siberia.

He did not get very far.

The train carrying the exiled Andrzej derailed when it struck a dying bull that had collapsed on the tracks. It was a terrible accident. Andrzej was left, presumed dead, abandoned in the middle of a snowy field.

Andrzej Szczerba wore a silver medallion with an image of Saint Casimir, who was the patron saint of Poland, on a chain around his neck. He believed Saint Casimir had saved his life in the train wreck, and every day for the rest of his life, Andrzej would kiss the medal and say a prayer, thanking Saint Casimir.

It was a fortunate thing for me that Andrzej Szczerba did not die in that snowy field. Wounded, he walked for two days until he came to the town of Hrodna, where he hid from the Russians and ultimately married a Polish girl named Aniela Masulka, who was my great-great-great-grandmother.

Andrzej’s healthy Polish semen made four Catholic children with Aniela—two boys and two girls.

Only one of them, his youngest son, Krzys, would ever end up near Ealing, Iowa.

This is my history.

LOUIS ASKS A RHETORICAL QUESTION

We leaned our backs against the cinder-block wall, smoking in the cut of shade from a green rolling dumpster, and at just about the same time I talked Robby into taking his car to drive us over to Shann Collin’s new old house, I looked up and noticed the population of Grasshopper Jungle had increased uncomfortably.

Four boys from Herbert Hoover High, the public school, had been watching us while they leaned against the galvanized steel railing along the edge of the stairway we had been using for a ramp.

“Candy Cane faggots, getting ready to make out with each other in Piss Alley.”

The Candy Cane thing—that was what Hoover Boys enjoyed calling boys from Curtis Crane Lutheran Academy. Not just because it kind of rhymed. We had to wear ties to school. Whoever invented the uniform could have planned better to avoid the striped red-and-white design of them. Because when we’d wear our ties, white shirts, and blue sweaters with the little embroidered crosses inside blood red hearts, you couldn’t help but think we looked like, well, patriotic, Christian-boy candy canes.

But Robby and I weren’t big enough losers to still be wearing our uniforms while skating.

Well, we weren’t so much skating as smoking cigarettes, actually.

Robby wore a Hormel Spam T-shirt and baggy jeans with holes in them he sagged so low you could see half his citrus-motif boxers. They had oranges and lemons on them.

Citrus does not grow in Iowa.

I wore yellow-and-green basketball shorts and a black Orwells tee. So we didn’t look like candy cane boys.

The Orwells are a punk band from Illinois.

The other part—the faggot part—well, let’s just say Robby got picked on.

A lot.

I only knew one of the boys: Grant Wallace. It’s hard not to know pretty much every kid in a town the size of Ealing, even if you didn’t pay too much attention to people as a rule.

However, I did know this: Grant and his friends were there for no other reason than to start crap.

It was bound to be historic, too.

And two 140-pound Candy Cane faggot sophomores with cigarettes and skateboards were not likely to stop anything four bored and corn-fed twelfth-graders from Hoover had in mind.

Robby just sat back casually against the wall, puffing away on his cigarette.

I couldn’t help but think he looked like a guy in one of those old black-and-white movies about firing squads and blindfolds and the Foreign Legion and shit like that.

One of Grant’s friends, a pudgy guy with a face full of whiteheads and only one eyebrow, took his cell phone out from his pocket and began recording video of us.

Consult history: Nothing good ever happens when cell phones are used to record video.

And I guess that was as good as Grant’s directorial cue to begin.

“Let me and Tyler borrow you guys’ skateboards for a few minutes. We’ll bring them back.”

Tyler must have been the mule-faced kid on Grant’s right, because he nodded, all excited, an encouragement for us to be cooperative Candy Cane faggots.

But Robby said no before the question was entirely out of Grant’s mouth.

The truth is—and history will back me up on this, too—that when kids like Grant ask kids like me and Robby if they can borrow stuff like skateboards, the boards are either going to get stolen, or the kids like me and Robby are going to be beaten up and then the boards are going to get stolen.

The way kids like me and Robby get beaten up first is when one of them says no.

History class is over for today.

We got beaten up by Grant Wallace, Tyler, and some other kid who smelled like he had barf on his sleeves, while the fourth kid filmed it with his cell phone.

Oh, and extra credit in history: You should never wear loose mesh basketball shorts and boxer underwear if you’re going to get kneed in the balls. Just so you know for the future.

I don’t even think either one of us made it all the way to his feet before the kicks and punches started. Robby got a bloody nose.

Grant took our boards and chucked them up onto the roof of The Pancake House.

Then the four Hoover Boys took our shoes off and threw them on the roof, too.

And if the boards didn’t make such a racket when they landed, Grant and his friends would have taken Robby’s and my pants and sent them up to shoe-and-skateboard heaven, too. But the Chinese guy named Louis who worked in the kitchen of The Pancake House stuck his face out the back door, and asked, politely, what we thought we were doing.

I do not know what I thought I was doing.

But that question, in itself, when asked by a Chinese pancake chef named Louis, was enough to make Grant and his friends call an end to their diversion.

I was curled up on my side, cupping my nuts, while the sleeve of my black Orwells T-shirt adhered to some gooey piss stain on Grasshopper Jungle’s asphalt.

Grant and the Hoover Boys left, and Louis, apparently satisfied with the lack of an answer to his rhetorical question about what we boys thought we were doing, shut the door.

For a moment, I found myself wondering, too, why guys like Grant Wallace, who called guys like me and Robby Brees faggots, always seemed to take pleasure in removing the trousers of littler guys.

That would be a good question for the books, I thought.

THERE’S BLOOD ON YOUR SPAM

“Are you hurt?”

“Balls. Knee. Boxers.”

“Oh. Um.”

“There’s blood on your Spam.”

“Shit.”

———

GRANT WALLACE MURDERED ME

Robby felt bad, not because of his bloody nose. Because he blamed himself when things like this happened. He cried a little, and that made me sad.

We recovered.

History shows, after things like that, you either get up and have a cigarette, in your socks, with your bloody friend, or you don’t.

Since it wasn’t time for Robby and me to die, we decided to have a smoke.

I believe Andrzej Szczerba would have wanted a smoke when he pulled himself, bloodied, up from the wreckage in that snowy field in Poland.

There are as many theories on how to deal with a bloody nose as there are ears of corn in all the combined silos of Iowa.

Robby’s approach was artistic.

Propping himself dog-like on his hands and knees, he hung his head down, depositing thick crimson coins of blood from his nostrils and simultaneously puffing a cigarette, while he drip-drip-dripped a pointillist message on the blacktop: GRANT WALLACE MURDERED ME

I watched and smoked and wondered how our shoes and skateboards were getting along, up there on the roof.

Unfortunately, as funny as it was to both of us, Robby stopped bleeding after forming the second A, so he only got as far as GRANT WA

“Nobody’s going to know what that means,” I said.

“I should have used lowercase.”

“Lowercase does use less blood. And a smaller font. Everyone knows that.”

“Maybe you should punch me again.”

I realized I’d never punched anyone in my life.

“I don’t think so, Robby. You got any quarters on you?”

“Why?”

“Let’s go throw our shirts in the laundry place. You need to learn how to use those things anyway.”

So Robby and I limped around to the front of the mall and went inside Ealing Coin Wash Launderette, where, maximizing the return on our investment, we not only washed our T-shirts, but the socks we had on as well.

“This is boring,” Robby observed while we waited for the fifth dime we slotted into the dryer to magically warm the dampness and detergent from our clothes. “No wonder I never come here.”

“Doesn’t your apartment building have a laundry room?”

“It’s nasty.”

“Worse than this?”

“This? This is like Hawaii, Porcupine. Sitting here with you, barefoot, with no shirts on, watching socks and shit go around.”

Robby lived alone with his mom in a tiny two-bedroom at a place called the Del Vista Arms, a cheap stucco apartment building only three blocks from Grasshopper Jungle. We walked there, in our damp laundered socks and T-shirts.

Two of the apartments on Robby’s floor had Pay or Quit notices taped to their doors.

“Wait here,” he said, and he quietly snuck inside.

It meant his mother was home. Robby usually didn’t like people to come over when his mom was there. I knew that. He was just going to get the keys to the Ford and take me for a ride, anyway.

So I waited.

“The blood didn’t come out of your Spam shirt,” I said.

We drove west, down Mercantile Street toward my house, and I noticed the diffused brown splotches of post-laundered blood that dotted Robby’s chest. And he was still in his socks, too.

“I’ll loan you a pair of shoes when we get to my house,” I offered. “Then let’s go get Shann and do something.”

I glanced over my shoulder and checked out the backseat.

I wondered if I would ever not be horny, or confused about my horniness, or confused about why I got horny at stuff I wasn’t supposed to get horny at.

As history is my judge, probably not.]

“I think we should go up on the roof and get our shit back. Tonight, when no one will see us. Those were my best shoes.”

Actually, those were Robby’s only non-Lutheran-boy school shoes.

I was willing.

“I bet there’s some cool shit up on that roof,” I said.

“Oh yeah. No doubt everyone in Ealing hides their cool shit up on the roof of The Pancake House.”

“Or maybe not.”

WHAT MADE THIS COUNTRY GREAT

Robby had an older sister named Sheila.

Sheila was married and lived with her husband and Robby’s six-year-old nephew in Cedar Falls.

I had a brother named Eric.

Eric was in Afghanistan, shooting at people and shit like that.

As bad as Cedar Falls is, even the Del Vista Arms for that matter, Eric could have gone somewhere better than Afghanistan.

Both our moms took little blue pills to make them feel not so anxious. My mom took them because of Eric, and Robby’s mom needed pills because when we were in seventh grade, Robby’s dad left and didn’t come back. My dad was a history teacher at Curtis Crane Lutheran Academy, and my mom was a bookkeeper at the Hy-Vee, so we had a house and a dog, and shit like that.

Hy-Vee sells groceries and shit.

My parents were predictable and ominous. They also weren’t home yet when Robby and I got there in our still-wet socks and T-shirts.

“Watch out for dog shit,” I said as we walked across the yard.

“Austin, you should mow your lawn.”

“Then it would make the dog shit too easy to see and my dad would tell me to pick it up. So I’d have to mow the lawn and pick up dog shit.”

“It’s thinking like that that made this country great,” Robby said. “You know, if they ever gave a Nobel Prize for avoiding work, every year some white guy in Iowa would get a million bucks and a trip to Sweden.”

Thinking about me and Robby going to Sweden made me horny.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
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.
—Geekdad.com 
 
 “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.”
BCCB
 
 

Meet the Author

Andrew Smith is the award-winning author of several young adult novels, including the critically acclaimed Winger and The Marbury Lens. 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. Grasshopper Jungle is his seventh novel. He lives in Southern California. You can learn more at authorandrewsmith.com and follow him on Twitter: @marburyjack.

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Grasshopper Jungle 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't want to seem too hyperbolic, but this might be the best YA novel I've ever read. For what seems like the first time in YA history, we're presented with a narrator who most definitely is a sixteen-year-old boy, hypersexuality and all. I could praise the book for its balls-to-the-wall sci-fi horror action, for its nuanced and surprisingly accurate treatment of bisexuality, for its slipstreaming writing style that takes it from one end of history to the other, but instead I'll praise it for taking risks and being brave and honest in a publishing culture that seems to strive for homogeneity. Read this freaking book.
Sandy5 More than 1 year ago
3.5 stars. Austin a.k.a Porcupine and Robby are 10th graders at Curtis Cane Lutheran Academy. These two are so different from one another which make their friendship so great and unique. Robby has a car, his mother buys him cigarettes and he is also a homosexual. Austin feels disconnected from his parents, he has a girlfriend and yet he is uncertain about his sexuality. The boys at the high school like to pick on them and after an altercation, Austin and Robby’s skateboards and shoes are now on top of the Pancake House at the dwindling Ealing Mall. After closing, the boys decide to get their things and while they are up on the roof, they locate a trapdoor to the Attic to Stellar Consignment Shop. Temptation strikes! The boys make their way into the closed shop. Being familiar with this store, Austin shows Robby the highlights but the real showcase is the owner’s private office. Being new territory for both the boys, the office is like a freak show. Strange and intriguing items line the office shelves and just as the boys are getting familiar with these items, they hear voices. The same high school boys who had the perfect aim with their boards and shoes are now inside the shop. Austin and Robby hide while the older boys check out the office and they stop at the same glass-sealed globe that had Austin and Robby’s attention just a few minutes ago. The world would have been a better and quieter place had the boys learned and followed the manners someone should have taught them about leaving things alone that do not belong to them but in this case, the town of Ealing will never be the same. As the amount of victims count starts to rise, no one seems to know what is happening; the world is oblivious to what is occurring in Iowa. Austin, a history recorder, has another event for the books as these six-legged, sex-crazed bugs hatch out of the citizens of his small town. It was definitely a fun, crazy read. I really enjoyed the plot as the three friends tried to handle the crisis together while their town was falling apart. Austin and Robby had a great friendship and I liked that they were totally different in a lot of distinct ways, they complimented each other. The story moves in a fast pace and I didn’t want to put the book down until I had finished the last page. Austin was so confused about his sexuality and both Robby and his girlfriend Shann knew this. Sex was talked about a lot in this book as they both pondered issues dealing with their sexuality, both in a serious and a light tone. Austin was so serious about recording history and he wanted to get things down so people in the future would not forget. There were times when I was reading that I was getting frustrated as the words kept repeating themselves. I don’t mind reading someone twice but after reading something three times and I was ready to scream, “I know this already, move on!” The author liked to poke fun of the people of Iowa and being from Iowa, some of them were funny. Don’t get me wrong, just because I am from the state does not make me upset about these but I think there were too many of them. Just like the repeated information, I felt this line was repeated and it lost its effect. “Food descriptions work well in Iowa, women in Iowa wear them (hairnets), in Iowa, there are cameras trained on corn, people in Iowa like to bowl.” These are just a few of the many punches Andrew had and I had to laugh at some of them but others, they just lost their effect. Lots of imagination going on in this book, it’s quirky, great sci-fi and it will definitely make you smile. For mature readers only as the language and subject matter is strong. Thank you Goodreads and the publisher for this copy. I was a First-Reads winner of this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I ordered this book with one of my grandchildren in mind. When I choose books for my grands, I read them first and try to imagine whether or not the parental units will approve. This book probably has no literary merit at all, but I give it five stars based on how I felt as I read it. It's a romp into the thoughts of a teenaged boy and his meshing of his fantasies with real life. Just imagine six-feet tall praying mantises,an underground place that was once a lab in which an experiment went wrong, the typical signs of teenage angst, questions of sexuality. A lot of F bombs, but remember we're looking through the boy's eyes. You can read better reviews at numerous sites, so I chose to leave that to them. My recommendation is to read this. What a hoot!
ArizonaFlame More than 1 year ago
GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE, Andrew Smith-ISBN 978-0525426035 The end of time waltzes in like the biblical plague of locusts. What once was a soothing sound while sleeping under the stars and a favored bug of child’s play has evolved into a nightmare that doesn’t go away when awake. This once controlled insect seems to have taken human form and it is no longer satisfied eating plant life, with its prehistoric, futuristic, dinosaur, bugman looks and actions it will not be long before the world dies as these things feast on man. A couple of teens take it upon themselves to trace the origins of this new beast. Can it be destroyed? Perhaps the kids will be destroyed. As crazy as this dino-manbug sounds (my words, not the authors) the author balances humor with nature and fear very well and creates a very interesting world.
toniFMAMTC More than 1 year ago
This story. . . I have no idea what the heck was going on really haha. I guess it would be categorized as mature YA? It’s definitely teen characters, and I think it’s speaking to a teen audience. It’s not regular YA because has ample cussing and sex talk throughout as well as some drug use and actual sex scenes. It’s sort of about topics that really are in teens’ heads like sexual orientation, having sex, parents taking nerve pills, bullies, etc. It’s also a crazy mix of fantasy, coming of age, sci-fi, apocalypse, with a bit of horror, dark comedy, teen angst and a little dystopia thrown in. It’s definitely a story I won’t soon forget.
LovelyChand More than 1 year ago
"Grasshopper Jungle" by Andrew Smith is a story I enjoyed for the writing style rather than for the plot. Originally, I picked the book up because it was recommended by a teacher for an optional summer reading assignment. Being an avid reader, I dove into the book eagerly, but almost immediately recoiled. The inappropriate, very teenager-esque word choice and events were an unexpected surprise that I didn't find too appealing. When I read the summary and reviews, I expected an exciting, action-filled, adrenaline-provoking thriller. Such stories are not exactly my favourite genre, but I still enjoy reading them. What I did not expect is a slow, realistic read about a teenage boy questioning his sexuality and romances. The slow build-up of action was apparent, but too lethargic to actually interest me. Only about 100 pages in, I decided to do something I've never done in my time as a reader: I put the book down. The book was completely against my expectations and taste, regardless of how open-minded I can be. Eventually, though, my curiosity of the resolution overpowered my distaste, causing me to continue reading. By the end, I was glad I did finish the story. The first portion of the story preceding the climax was dreadfully disappointing, but the climax and action proceeding it later made up up for it. Though I did not completely enjoy the story's plot, I did appreciate the author's style of writing. The narration of the story fit perfectly to how a teenage boy's mind works, completely out of order and sense at first glance, when even the minute details all connect to create a bigger picture. As an incoming high school reader, I would reluctantly but soon surely recommend this book to another high school reader. Though the plot isn't my style, it seems to be appealing enough in the perspective of the average teenager. Overall, I most enjoyed how the writing style fit how a teenage boy's mind thinks, making Austin's narration even more realistic. Considering my dislike of the plot and my appreciation for the writing style, I would rate "Grasshopper Jungle" three out of five stars, but I would definitely recommend it to any open-minded reader mature enough for such language and scenes, regardless of being a teenager in high school.
Chancie More than 1 year ago
It was a decent read, but I don't think it was amazing or memorable by any means. Maybe part of the problem is that I have absolutely nothing to connect with the main character about, but that's on me, not the book. Still looking forward to grabbing Andrew Smith's other books, though.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There are three different kinds of books in the world. The first one is the book everyone wants to read. These are the books that you stay up until two am reading, the books that take only two days to finish. Usually, these are what make the Bestseller lists, top ten reads, and are what all the hype is about. The second one is your just plain boring books. They have no structure, plot, or anything that makes you interested in them at all. These should be avoided at all costs. The final one is the rarest, and probably my favorite. These are the books that make you really think. They usually tackle heavy themes that take a while to consume. They win the all the awards. Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith is that third book. There is no other way to describe Grasshopper Jungle. I am at a loss of words to describe this book. Since the beginning of the book, Austin Szerba, a polish boy has been retelling his history, teaching us one main thing: all paths collide.  It is a very confusing history, but ends up leading to the creation of the 412E plague. The 412E plague turns people into two things: a six foot tall unstoppable grasshopper soldier, or six foot tall unstoppable grasshopper soldier food. And this plague was finally contained into glass globes, until Austin, and his best friend, Robby Brees, somehow manage to release it. The main part of the book that really made me think was the constant confusion Austin was in. And the cause of the confusion was the questioning of his sexuality. It was clear Austin was going through a constant struggle, and he finally decided it was best to not decide if he was gay or straight. Because in life, sometimes it is better to decide to not decide. The multiple themes represented in the book seem like they wouldn’t work together, but somehow did. The storytelling was a unique style that was very intriguing. It considered what all the characters were doing at certain points in time, instead of just the two main ones. The ideas in the story were very different, unlike any I have seen before, but were still familiar in an odd way. The writing captured ideas that I feel many adults may not understand well. All teenagers should be required to read the book, because it is relatable. I may not be a sixteen year old boy questioning my sexuality, but just the confusion that came from not knowing certain things is something that many people, including myself, can relate to. 5 stars, all the way.  This review does not give Grasshopper Jungle justice, and I don’t know if anything can. This may be the bravest story I have read, and again, it leaves me speechless.
MissPrint More than 1 year ago
This is more a critical analysis than a review and is therefore littered with spoilers of varying degrees. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith (2014). By this point, Grasshopper Jungle needs no introduction having already swept up a variety of accolades including wide critical acclaim, starred reviews, a movie option as well as winning the Boston Globe-Horne Book Award. It is the bright green book that could and has helped mark a well-deserved turning point in Smith's literary career as he joins the ranks of current hot authors. It is a madcap, diverse, clever book that blends genres, time periods and story lines. Grasshopper Jungle is also one of those books where I can see all of the things Smith is doing that are clever and smart but I don't particularly care for or appreciate any of them on a personal level because I am too busy deeply not enjoying it. The diversity here and Austin being refreshingly whoever the hell he wants to be is great and much needed. But at the same time Austin (and his friends) are painfully careless. Like Tom and Daisy Buchanan, they are careless people. Yes Austin is embraced and beloved while Daisy (and Tom as well) is cast as a vapid villain. Which is part of why, for me, it became impossible to talk about or even think about this book without also considering the matter of gender. Would a girl ever get away with being this careless while also being beloved by readers? Would a girl get to act like this and we would all say "oh I guess this is just a realistic description of a teenaged girl in all her hyper-sexualized and self-absorbed glory"? I doubt that very much. Austin walking through life doing whatever he wants (to the point of ending the world) without any consequences to his person is a constant throughout the novel. Even at the very end, after ending the world, Austin and Robby are driving away and accidentally run over a little boy. But the little boy is also a grasshopper monster, so it's okay. No consequences. If this book were narrated by a girl instead of by Austin, this would have been an entirely different story. I could be wrong or unfair to think this, but I feel safe saying that if this book were narrated by a girl all anyone would be saying is that she is a self-obsessed bitch with no depth. I don't think it would have even lasted long enough in anyone's mind to be garnering acclaim and literary awards. (Similarly I feel like if this were a female author it would have been dismissed out of hand as too genre but that is a totally different matter.) There is a lot to like about Grasshopper Jungle. I liked the friendship. I liked that we saw how the world ends.I never found myself particularly dazzled by the writing which from what I can tell is reminiscent of the voice Smith adopts in every novel (which is problematic here since there is no authorly narrator but a first person one). I never much cared about Austin or Robby or Shann as characters. More frustrating, for me, was the fact that Shann and other women in the novel barely were characters as they spent most of the novel sidelined. It's highly likely that the routine marginalization or objectification of the female characters was unintentional. But that doesn't change the fact that it still means something. It still counts. The ideas Smith raises about "history" and "truth" (or alternatively History and Truth) in Grasshopper Jungle are interesting but by having Austin mention them so many times I found myself doubting everything he said. It's like a child asking "Do you believe me?" after telling an obvious lie. With that aspect in place I'm not even sure how much of this story I am supposed to believe or take at face value. All of it? None of it? Who knows. The fact that I thought so hard shows how much Smith has done well and if you want to read a zany book that asks (even if it might not answer) a lot of interesting questions, this is the book for you. It remains, however unfortunately, a book that was not for me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Andrew Smith is an amazing writer, and this book... beyond fabulous. I didn't want to read it at all. I am not into giant man eating praying mantises. At all. But I was encouraged to read it by people I respect and trust and I am so glad I did read it. I am as far from the target audience as you can get but it grabbed me and held me in awe for the entire book. I read Winger after I read this with the same reluctance. I mean, Rugby? The photo on the cover? YUK. But I loved it too. So I concluded, as I said in the first sentence, Andrew Smith is an amazing writer. I would now, without any reluctance, read anything he writes.
sswilkie More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. Smith has a unique writing style and I liked it so much I immediately ordered "Stick" by him and loved it as well. I plan on reading all of Andrew Smith's books. Highly recommend this book to all youth and adults.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Funny and surprisingly insightful on the inner workings of a confused teenage boy's mind.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book, one of the few teen books I would actually recommend. The characters were believable  and acted like real teenagers. I enjoyed all the characters and they're development. I really liked the authors writing style, there is a lot of repeating but it adds to the tone of the book. There were many laugh out loud moments. I can't think of anything negative about the book. Its an enjoyable, absurdist romp.