Friday 4 April 2014

Recommendation: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Title: Grasshopper Jungle

Author: Andrew Smith

Obtained: From Snuggling on the Sofa  - thank you Debbie!

Genre: YA contemporary/sci-fi

Very Highly Recommended

Out Now

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 preying 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 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 preying 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.

(This review is part of the fabulous #LGBTApril, hosted by Laura @ Laura Plus Books and Cayce @ Fighting Dreamer)



  1. This sounds totally weird and awesome. I will be looking out for it!

  2. Really?!! OKAY YOU HAVE SOLD ME! This one was already way up on my list but it seriously sounds so good. And Far From You as well since some heart tearing is always nice. ;)

    1. 'Some' heart tearing doesn't really describe FFY - I wandered around London crying for about 6 hours after reading it. It's an AMAZING book, though,as is this. Two of my favourites of the year so far!

  3. Awesome review, Jim! Is it wrong that the only part of the book that "appeals" to me is the bisexual element? There are so few bisexual YA novels, I feel I've got to read it so I can review it - whether positively or negatively - and highlight it as a book with a bisexual protag. I really, really hope I like, but the praying mantises plot just doesn't appeal to me at all. But you've given me some hope! I didn't fancy Far From You but read it on your recommendation and loved it, so fingers crossed!

    1. That was the only bit that appealed to me; I don't like sci-fi at all, but it worked for me surprisingly well. Would be intrigued to see what you think if you read this!

    2. I don't mind some sci-fi, and I love a lot of fantasy. But this just seems a little crazy. I'll take that as a good sign if the LGBTQ element is all that appealed to you too, and you loved it! I'll be giving it a go soon :)

  4. Okay so I have seen this book everywhere and it has been so highly reviewed! It is the wackiest sounding read I have heard of for a long time but this review has pretty much sold it to me. Great review!

    Katrina @ Chased By My Imagination

    1. Thanks Katrina, glad you liked the review! Hope you enjoy the book if you get it.