The Horror Honeys: Haunted Bookclub ~ Grasshopper Jungle

Haunted Bookclub ~ Grasshopper Jungle

A Book of the Week Review by Jocelyn

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

My brother and I see eye-to-eye on most of the important stuff in life (like how hideous Crocs are, the boredom induced by many overrated movies, etc) so when he recommended “Grasshopper Jungle” to me, I was super-psyched to read it.  I did enjoy Andrew Smith’s last book “Winger” so I figured this would be more of the same angsty teenage boy stuff, but with the added bonus of giant militant bugs taking over the world.  And for the most part, that was exactly what I got, but I just didn’t love it like I was expecting to.

The premises is certainly unique – high-schooler Austin Szerba (it’s Polish, he tells us) and his best friend Robby Brees are growing up in Ealing, Nebraska, the sort of small town with one prep school (theirs), one high school full of bullying jocks, and one closeted minister who patronizes the local gay bar, which isn’t actually too local.

Austin and Robby spend a lot of time smoking, riding skateboards and generally killing time.  Austin is a well-drawn character (with “hair the color of potato peels and skin the shade of boxed oatmeal”), a unique stew of horny bad decisions, most of which are focused on his girlfriend Shann Collins. Of late, however, Austin has been feeling ALL of the feelings for his best friend Robby – and he’s not sure what to do about it or what it means for his future.  Robby struggles with no such uncertainty and is as out as out can be in a town like Ealing (which is to say, not very out at all).

One night, the boys break into the private office of their boss, Johnny McKeon (also Shann’s stepdad, in the way of small towns everywhere) at a local consignment store called “From Attic to Seller” – in his carefully locked office, Johnny has all manner of oddities, including a two-headed fetus in a glass jar and a series of specimen jars labeled with things like “Human Replication Strand 4-VG-03” and “Contained MI Plague Strain 412E”.  They are quickly chased into hiding when the local public school jocks choose the same night to break in and take one of the displays.  When said doofuses (doofi?) drop the display outside and what’s inside comes in contact with blood on the pavement, all hell breaks loose – almost literally.

As people are slowly taken over by, well, giant insects, Austin and Robby put the pieces together, in between driving, smoking, skateboarding, and experimenting in the way of curious teenage boys everywhere.  Nope, not with chemicals – guess again.  All of this leaves Austin feeling very confused.  And when Shann’s historic house gives the three a roadmap to a local shelter that seems to be built just in case the world is coming to an end, things get even more interesting.

It’s so hard to describe this book.  There is a lot of backtracking to Austin’s ancestors, and a lot of repetition in a sort of Chuck Palahniuk style – and I love me some Chuck P.  I loved all the giant bug stuff, with six foot grasshoppers molting and attacking and screwing and eating and lather rinse repeat.  I loved the stuff in the shelter, dubbed “Eden” and highly reminiscent of the hatch season of “Lost." And I liked Austin – his desire to document, his bi-curious confusion, his bittersweet recognition that growing up can be even scarier than giant bugs.  What didn’t work as well for me was the length of this book.  At nearly 400 pages, I found my interest flagging rather than spiking as the end of the book approached. I do think this will make a fantastic movie, and it’s already been optioned by Sony.  Definitely one my brother and I will be seeing together!

Hardcover Honey verdict: Three giant disgusting bugs out of five for this one.