Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
If you only read one book this year about horny, blood-thirsty, six-foot-tall praying mantises, make it this one!
Look, that’s really all you should need to know to want to go pick up this weird book. You need more information than that? Well, the prologue tells us what else to expect in this book:
“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.”
I know–it kind of sounds like maybe this review is being written by Stefon (played by Bill Hader) from Saturday Night Live. It’s almost impossible to summarize the totally off-the-wall plot. Let’s just say that I had this book with me at the doctor recently and the nurse asked me what it was about. I gave her the high points–stuff you just read up there–and she sat there just looking at me in silence. I’m pretty sure she made some kind of note in my chart after that.
Austin Szerba is 16 and consumed with thoughts about sex. I know what you’re thinking: really? A 16-year-old boy thinks about sex a lot? Yeah, that’s not groundbreaking. But what is noteworthy is Smith’s willingness to show us just how all-consuming these thoughts are. Pretty much everything makes Austin horny, including his girlfriend Shann and his best friend Robby. Austin doesn’t know how he can be in love with both of them, but he is. When he kisses Robby, he doesn’t know if it’s just experimenting or if it means something more. But who has time to dwell too heavily on their sexuality when the end of the world is fast approaching?
The impending apocalypse began many years ago in small town Iowa, when a crazy scientist started making genetically-modified corn that had the somewhat worrisome side effect of being able to dissolve testicles. This eventually leads to the creation of these Unstoppable Soldiers–these giant insects that only want to have sex and kill things. When Austin, Robby, and Shann stumble across the underground bunker that served as the lab for these creations (as well as the safe haven for the inevitable end of the world), they begin to understand what they will be up against.
Austin weaves together the stories of his genealogy, his thoughts on his sexuality, the history of his town, and the insect armageddon in a breathlessly verbose, meandering, hyper-intellectual (and swear word-laden) narrative. This funny, crass, and deeply weird book won’t appeal to everyone, but those who give it a shot will be rewarded with one hell of an entertaining (and deeply weird–did I mention this book is weird?) read. You may find yourself exclaiming “Excrementum Sanctum” over and over as you read this one.
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