Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Reviewed for this blog by Geri, Ridgefield Library

I will state upfront that this was my favorite book this year. It is inventive, whip smart, touching, scary, outrageous, and thought-provoking. I will also state right here at the beginning of this post that I do not think this book will get any Printz love, even though it is wholly amazing and worthy of it. A few months ago (sorry Andrea, I meant to write this sooner!), I wrote about Smith’s other 2014 release 100 Sideways Miles. That book got a lot of respect, many stars, and as I wrote, is more classically “Printz worthy” than GJ. GJ may be too “out there” for it to garner a Printz. But it really, really should.

Walter Mayes, the recent past president of ALAN, described Smith as “…the bastard love child of Kurt Vonnegut and Chris Crutcher” and that perfectly encapsulates Smith’s writing style. He GETS teenagers, especially teenage boys. And he GETS the greed and madness that power the military/industrial complex. Grasshopper Jungle is about those two things (boys and the military/industrial complex) and also about love and family and humanity’s legacy on this planet. It is also hilarious, especially if you enjoy earthy humor.

Austin lives in Iowa. He is in love with his girlfriend Shann. He is starting to think he is also in love with his best friend Robby. Austin and Robby accidentally unleash a biological plague that causes the end of the world by turning people into six foot tall, ravenously hungry and insatiably horny praying mantises. This plague was invented by scientists looking to create unstoppable corn – weaponized food.

Honestly, it all makes sense in the big picture of the novel – the greed of corporations, the corrupting power of enormous governments, the confusion of adolescent love, the longing every human has to find connection with others and to make a mark in history. Grasshopper Jungle tackles the big picture with characters who are relatable, science that is frighteningly close to reality, and bright, nimble writing that makes me want to shout at the Printz committee: GIVE THIS DYNAMO OF A BOOK SOME LOVE!

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4 thoughts on “Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

  1. Miriam

    Ah, Geri. I tried. I really did. I just couldn’t make it through more than a quarter of this book. The writing style drove me to distraction. I tried to hang in there, but I think I stopped reading shortly before the grasshoppers showed up. I have to say, the kids are not picking it up at my library. It’s only circulated four times, and one of those was me. (I know, I know…popularity is not part of the Printz equation. Just saying.)

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  2. GeriD

    Miriam, Smith is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. Much as Vonnegut wasn’t and Crutcher isn’t. (I belabor that point because I think Walter Mayes completely nailed it with that description.) Smith often time hops, brings in seemingly disparate points of view, and is almost always snarky. I would be delighted and also extremely shocked if GJ got Printz love because his writing style can be so polarizing.
    Your comments on the circulation reminded me of this SLJ post about just that topic. The post is almost 3 years old, but as we approach the ALA Media Awards this year, it seems timely.
    http://blogs.slj.com/printzblog/2012/05/07/hulk-smash/

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    1. Miriam

      LONG conversation over there! HannahLilly’s post basically sums up how I feel about this, but I’ll grant that the other posters (who take the opposing view, for the most part) make some interesting and valid points. Back when the Adbooks listserv was alive and well, we had lengthy and passionate discussions about this. Patty Campbell wrote about those discussions in Campbell’s Scoop: Reflections on Young Adult Literature. I’m quoted two or three times, but at least one of the quotes was actually someone else’s post, as I recall. I haven’t been swayed to the other camp yet, but the posters in the discussion you cited made better arguments for their case. Or were more persuasive, anyhow.

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  3. Pingback: Stand-off by Andrew Smith | CT Mock Printz Book Discussion

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