I now understand the grossness of the world, guys. I thought the world was all peaceful and full of unicorns and giggling babies and stuff, but this is a complete wake-up call. I never knew that sixteen-year-old boys could be so gross. I never knew that praying mantises could be so gross. I never knew that people could be so gross. (Well, okay, I admit knowing all of these things, but I never deliberately read books about gross things, you know?) Smith’s creative narrative and evocative descriptions kept me reading Grasshopper Jungle; there’s just something morbidly fascinating about it that makes me want to nervously laugh through the whole thing. And even though this book is not for me, I’m really glad that I read this book because I’ve never read anything like Grasshopper Jungle before.
Sixteen-year-old Austin Szerba keeps detailed records of history – the history of his Polish ancestors; of the small town of Ealing, Iowa and its residents; of his growing sexual desire for his girlfriend, Shann; of his changing feelings for his best friend, Robby, who happens to be gay; and of the end of the world, which is brought forth by the invasion of giant preying mantises.
This quote basically describes 60% of the book:
History lesson of the day: My balls are barometers to emotional storms.
Point one: Austin is gross. He talks about his balls (and other people’s balls) all the time. Well, okay, it’s not his fault that he’s gross – he’s at that age where all boys develop a one-track mind for group sex and masturbation and experimentation… or at least that’s what I kept telling myself. Austin, with all of his sexual frustration, tirelessly thinks about having threesomes with his girlfriend and his best buddy. And then he berates himself for being unfair to these two people whom he loves to no end. I’m iffy on using LGBT as a category for Grasshopper Jungle because this book is more about self-discovery than love, but hey, you can decide that for yourself (if you can gather up the courage to read it.)
Point two: the amount of historical facts in this book is just extreme. In a sense, it’s kind of like Austin’s diary since he talks about his family and stuff, BUT THEN he goes back to record his great-great-great-great-grandfather’s journey and whatnot. But the interesting thing is that everything is connected.
It was always fascinating to me how perfect things could be if you just let all the connections happen. My history showed how everything connected in Ealing, Iowa.
You could never get everything in a book.
Good books are always about everything.
Smith somehow made everything relevant to everything else, and Grasshopper Jungle is like this massive ball of yarn that he keeps tangling and untangling. (I just compared Andrew Smith to a cat, didn’t I?) Consequently, the narrative from Austin is choppy and discordant most of the time, but voilà, everything ends up connecting in such a perfect way that it’s almost scary. You won’t ever think about urinals and Pope Paul VI’s sperm in the same way again – that is, if you’ve ever thought about them before.
The other 40% of the book is also gross. The two things that preying mantises like to do are eating and having sex. Guess what happens in the other 40% of Grasshopper Jungle? Yup, you got it. And it’s not a pretty sight when enormous preying mantises get hungry. Smith included so much graphical detail on these things and what they do, and it’s terrifying and amazing and I kind of understand why people watch and read horror now. I was totally repulsed by Grasshopper Jungle, but I couldn’t stop myself from reading it.
The plot can’t be boring when you have things like balls and giant insect sex being thrown around. It felt kind of like Inception, Jurassic Park, and a wet dream all merged together. And I think Smith crafted a very interesting ending; I wasn’t sure how he’d end the book, and his ending definitely surprised me. It’s not a typical ending, but then again, Grasshopper Jungle isn’t your typical book.
My mind has been thoroughly dirtied by Grasshopper Jungle. Considering that I was going “ew ew ew ew ew” throughout the entire book, I’m surprised that I didn’t hate it; I was simply very grossed out and maybe too stunned to react. Grasshopper Jungle is morbidly fascinating, extremely gross, vaguely offensive, and very controversial, and I think most people will either love it or hate it.