Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

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Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James
Summary: This book may be love or hate, with a really unique writing style, but I fell for it hard and think lots of others will. Weird but wonderful.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: February 2014
Publisher: Electric Monkey
External links: [ Author's website]
ISBN: 978-1405273411

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Longlisted for the 2015 CILIP Carnegie Medal

Austin is confused. He's in love with both his girlfriend Shann and his best friend Robby. As if that wasn't a big enough problem, he and Robby have just managed to let loose an army of preying mantises which may bring about the end of the world. Who said Ealing, Iowa was boring?

I was rather wary about reading this, partly because sci-fi is one of the genres I really don't read much of, and partly because Grasshopper Jungle has to be one of the most hyped books of the year. It's blurbed by Gone author Michael Grant, while John Green predicted last year that it would be a massive hit. Reactions amongst reviewers so far seem to be mixed, with an awful lot of people raving over it but a fair amount left completely cold.

And I can definitely see why. This isn't a book I'd expect anyone to merely like. This is one that seems to be almost calculated to provoke strong reactions, whether they're ones of love or hate.

Personally, I'm in the 'love' camp, albeit with some pointers for what might make you want to avoid it. Firstly, it's written by Austin as a history. It feels massively constructed - I'm not sure I've ever read anything written in first person omniscient before, which must be one of the rarest points of view around. It took me twenty or thirty pages to decide whether or not I liked the style. I think it works because Austin's voice is so incredibly strong that Smith pulls it off here, but I can imagine it setting people's teeth on edge.

Secondly, there is a lot of sex and violence here. The majority of the sex is between six foot praying mantises, and most of the violence sees them killing innocents. In most cases, it's actually not particularly explicit, but it's not the kind of book you'd give your grandmother for Christmas, put it that way.

Where it worked pretty much perfectly for me was in the central love triangle. Austin is a wonderful narrator who genuinely cares about both Shann and Robby and struggles with his feelings for them, while they're both well-rounded characters with real strengths and flaws.

It's also - for all the sex, bugs killing people, teen angst about sexuality, and the fact that Austin spends much of it counting down to the end of the world - an incredibly fun book. (I'm not 100% sure I should be expressing that opinion and am almost expecting people to start giving me strange looks when they see me in public, but it's one of perhaps five or six out of my seventy or so reads this year that I would say was hugely enjoyable all the way through. I do quite like having my heart torn in two in the way Far From You by Tess Sharpe did occasionally, but there's something just as special about something which is just full-on, flat-out, entertainment.)

And yet... That's perhaps not a completely fair description, anyway. For all that it can be enjoyed as an incredibly entertaining read which I raced through in two and a half hours, (despite it being relatively long by YA standards) and despite the bug sex and the constant talk about testicles, there's more depth than you'd imagine. In particular, the details of how the praying mantises came to be raise questions, while the epilogue is stunningly powerful and thought-provoking.

Right up there as one of the best of the year for me.

For other stunning coming-of-age stories with brilliant male protagonists - although no giant bugs - don't miss Boys Don't Knit by T S Easton, Swim the Fly by Don Calame and Geekhood: Mission Improbable by Andy Robb. We were disappointed by Winger by Andrew Smith.

This review was kindly given to us by the ever-generous Ya Yeah Yeah

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