The Good and Genetically Modified in Grasshopper Jungle

I don’t typically review books, here, but it felt right to do so, because I’m kind of infatuated with the novel, Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith, which publishes tomorrow.

I’m fortunate enough to have picked up an Advanced Reader Copy while at ALA Midwinter. Here it is with Summer on the Short Bus, which I intend to review in April:

GJ & Short Bus pic

Grasshopper Jungle is about small town Iowa becoming overrun by genetically engineered praying mantis, resulting in the apocalypse. I know, it sounds crazy, but there’s so much more to it than corn, Iowa, praying mantis, and more corn.

It’s an awesome read about friendship and loyalty, with one extremely flawed protagonist––more on Austin in a minute. However, the story takes its time in developing the central conflict. There are hints of it, but most of the 128 pages prior to things really hitting the fan are filled with exposition and characterization, as well as a mix of secondary conflicts and accounts of history. And horniness.

The protagonist, Austin, is very easily aroused, by everything: his girlfriend, his best friend, situations that make sense for arousal, and those that have no connection to sensuality. Yet, that’s his quirk, which, for me, made him an endearing character, in spite of his gross selfish interest. Really, he says he loves his girlfriend, Shan, and friend, Robby, but he has a very difficult time showing that love. Lust, on the other hand, is no issue for Austin. He’s filled with it. And such a distinction is important for teens to see.

Yet, this combination of delayed action, which most authors (me included) would have concluded the first chapter with, and quite possibly an unlikable protagonist, could make Grasshopper Jungle a difficult read. But part of the undercurrent of the story is very much a Vonnegut-esque rhythm, of the renown “So it goes.” The looping style is part of the point. The story goes where the story goes, and unfolds as it does, without apology. I respect that and hope enough teens will have the patience to first know the characters and then watch them handle the main struggle. And I don’t feel as if we have to love all protagonists from the outset, or even throughout the novel. It’s important to learn from others, who we may not initially be able to relate to, because I can guarantee, on some level, at some point, the connection will occur.

I’ve read reviews of Grasshopper Jungle questioning whether a female protagonist with the same quirk as Austin would be as positively received. It’s a good question. I don’t know if the YA world would be accepting of such, but I kind of feel that they would. Especially those who read Andrew Smith’s work. Winger, another Smith novel, handles homosexuality well, as does Grasshopper Jungle. Austin’s best friend, Robby, is gay, and Austin is…confused. He never labels himself bisexual, which I like, because at the end of the world, do we really need labels? If ever? So a female protagonist, unafraid to voice her desires, might excel, where Austin comes off as comical. Time will tell.

If you like offbeat, layered stories that do not conform to formulas for plot and character, then I suggest you take a chance with Grasshopper Jungle. I guarantee you’ll find yourself wanting to smoke a cigarette before you save the world. “And shit like that.”

Afterthought:

If you follow Andrew Smith on Twitter @marburyjack, he’s been tweeting pictures of excerpts from Grashopper Jungle. Here’s the most important one, from the Acknowledgements, which he may or may not tweet. I cannot imagine Winger or Grasshopper Jungle not existing, so I’m glad he wrote for himself and then let us see.

photo

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Full-time Writing

I have an enviable schedule: a ten-month, full-time job, and then my two months of summer vacation. During the school-year, I write in the mornings, typically for two hours. During the summer, well, it’s a whole other story.

M-F:

6-11 am: write, write, edit, write. Feel the brain drain. Leave the office.

The rest of the morning and afternoon are spent with my family, swimming, reading, finding something fun to entertain the kids with.

I may or may not workout.

I may or may not take a nap.

In the evenings I read from the voluminous list I have (right now it’s Winger) or watch whatever show I’m addicted to (Right now it’s the first half of Season 5 of Breaking Bad).

I go to bed between 10 and 11 pm.

Repeat.

Weekends:

I’m typically too busy for writing, but will squeeze it in as needed.

Vacation:

Last year at this time I was preparing for the American Library Association annual conference, followed by a family vacation to Fort MyersFlorida and Disney. It was one of the best trips I have ever taken.

This summer, I will not be at ALA, and we are not going to Florida. We have a couple of trips planned, but nothing as extensive as last year. That equates to more time writing, which, for me, is phenomenal.

The other side of the job:

I am also using my time this summer preparing to launch Dare Me. Therefore, a fair amount of that afternoon and weekend time will be spent coordinating events, interviews, reviews and of course, on social media.

First up, the trailer will be launched 7/28, so stick around for details.

Pre-ordering is available, so spread the word.

The first signing is scheduled for 9/21 at Market Block Books (If you attend this event, you’ll have Dare Me a full two weeks before it’s available–unless you’ve pre-ordered).

The next is on 10/1 at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Library, so you’ll still be an early bird, with Dare Me in your hands a full week ahead of the rest.

The launch party will follow soon after, and I’m ironing out the details on that, so definitely stay posted.

Today

Is my last day of the school year, so I’ll be quite pumped this afternoon. But it’s not excitement for total abandon and freedom. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work hard, to create stories that entertain and educate.

It’s my job, and for two months, it’s full time.