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!