My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Andrew Smith ‘s book Grasshopper Jungle came highly recommended to me as a secondary school teacher-librarian as something that would connect with those elusive, hard-to-read teens. Scientifically it checks a number of those ‘should-I-buy-it’ boxes: involves issues of gender-identity, bullying, marginalized characters, and it’s all set in a dystopian crisis.
I am a lover of the bizarre, characters on the fringe, and science fiction but this book did not connect with me. For one, the language is more like poetry as the main character, Austin, speaks wildly and tangentially connecting present-day with military experiments, family history, and far beyond. The rhythm of the poetry is continually interrupted by the action scenes of escaping giant man-eating praying mantis, and vice versa. It’s a science-fiction novel that is continually interrupted by the sexual appetite of a 16 year old boy whose bisexual tendencies are causing major friendship fiction. There are really only 2 characters who develop: Austin and his boy/friend Robby who star in the action of having to save their families from certain doom. We are left wondering about Austin’s brother/parents who are in a Germany military hospital; and Austin’s girlfriend Shann who is sidelined by her own concern for her family and a surprise pregnancy. Smith’s description wants to be cinematic but never quite achieves this. The book is both bleak and hopeful and only a strong reader is going to ‘get it’ although many will enjoy the sex-filled, swearing-filled, action-packed nature of the book. This book is not for the faint of heart and I’ll need major convincing to pick up another of Smith’s books.