Thursday, 16 January 2014

Grasshopper Jungle

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB  RRP $19.95
ISBN 978 174297880 2
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

There are two clues that indicate Grasshopper Jungle is not your average coming of age novel. One is the fluorescent green cover adorned with a pair of large antennae. The other is on the first page where the words 'insects as big as refrigerators' appear. This story is about relationships, identity and sexuality but it is also about two teenage boys who inadvertently bring about the end of the world.

Austin Szerba is a sixteen year old boy from Ealing, Iowa who is in love with his both of his best friends — Robby Brees (a boy) and Shanna Collins (a girl). He is confused. Following a bizarre series of events, Austin and Robby accidentally let loose a scientific experiment from 1969 called Plague Strain 412E. Like Robby says, 'Nothing good is ever called Plague'. And he's right. The experiment hatches into enormous praying mantises who eat people, starting with their heads. Then Austin, Robby and Shanna find an underground bunker called Eden created by the same scientist responsible for the bugs. The end of the world seems almost certain but can they do something before it's too late?  

Written from Austin's point of view, the narrative spirals around jumping from thoughts about sex (lots of these!) and smoking, to stories about Austin's Polish ancestors, to his brother fighting in Afghanistan. Amongst all of this, the story unfolds of the 'Unstoppable Soldiers' (as the huge insects are called), moving towards its inevitable conclusion. There are short  chapters with lots of headings to allow for all the subject changes. There's also lots of action towards the end (chasing giant bugs and spraying them with blood!) which boys particularly will enjoy. 

Austin's voice is authentic and very funny. There is a lot of swearing, violence and sexual references so this book may be a bit controversial. Readers, who would need to be at least fourteen, will find Grasshopper Jungle a clever, original story, not easily forgotten.

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