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Welcome to the Jungle

With Andrew Smith as the tour guide to Grasshopper Jungle, y'all better hold onto your butts.

Welcome to the Jungle

BOOK REPORT for Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Cover Story: Montell Jordan
BFF Charm: Sure
Swoonworthy Scale: 6
Talky Talk: Let's Talk About Sex (and History), Baby
Bonus Factors: Genealogy, Boners, Ripley's Believe It Or Not, Giant Praying Mantises
Relationship Status: You're a Real Dynamo, Kid

Cover Story: Montell Jordan

Y'ALL. THIS COVER. It's simple and brilliant (in more than one sense) and WHY CAN'T ALL COVERS BE THIS GREAT? Sing it, Montell.

The Deal:

OMG I've only been waiting for this book for FOREVER. (Or for a few months. WHICH IS BASICALLY THE SAME THING.) But ooh boy, where to even start? 

Ealing, Iowa is just your ordinary small town, and Austin Szerba is just your ordinary, small town, fourth generation Polish-American boy. Except Austin's in love with his two best friends, Robby and Shann (full name -on, so put down your weird name pitchforks). And an army of unstoppable, ginormous praying mantises that threatens the entire existence of mankind has been unleashed in Ealing, NO BIG DEAL. 

The end of the world is nigh, but not if Austin can do something about it. As long as he can keep his perpetual horniness at bay long enough to get shit done, that is. 

BFF Charm: Sure

Oof, if anyone could use an extra BFF, it'd be Austin. Being in love with both the ones you have kind of makes it tough to talk about relationship woes, y'know? Esp. when there's the added wrinkle of confusion over his sexual orientation. But this is SO not a pity charm; Austin's peculiar and observant perspective is a fun place to visit, and I can honestly say I've never thought about names for testicles as much as I did when I was hanging out with him. 

If I sound a bit reluctant to give him a BFF charm, that's only because homeboy has a raging case of B.O. So my first act as his self-appointed BFF is to get him some clinical strength deodorant, STAT.

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

Yes, there is a love triangle, but it's one that has me rooting for both of Austin's love interests. Shann is his girlfriend, but his love of Robby goes so much deeper than friendship. And Robby even has an inside joke nickname for Austin, which is crushspeak for HAWWWT. 

Even though I was definitely biased (to the point of eventually shouting "NOW KISS!" in my head everytime Austin and Robby were in the same room), I can totally understand Austin's indecision. Both Shann and Robby are pretty dang awesome, and their relationships with Austin have varying levels of sweetness and complexity. 

Talky Talk: Let's Talk about Sex (and History), Baby

Austin fancies himself as a historian, but you'd never find a history textbook with a narrative like his. 'Cause Austin's style is, like, interesting and engaging. (You've also probably never read about the history of an uprising of giant bugs in Iowa, but that's beside the point.) And it actually reminds me of Pushing Daisies -- not in tone, but the way it shows the characters' pasts factoring into their present predicaments. (Like those Jim Dale-narrated montages that give time down to the minute.) Even though time is linear, history itself isn't. There are hundreds, thousands, gazillions of individual events, converging and diverging with everyone else's histories, that have accumulated into you reading this very sentence right now. And considering that enormous scope of history is something that Austin does v. well.  

Shann said, "I love how you tell stories. I love how, whenever you tell me a story, you go backwards and forwards and tell me everything else that could possibly be happening in every direction, like an explosion. Like a flower blooming."

And also unlike a textbook, Austin doesn't skimp on cusses or sex. Fortch, he doesn't get graphic or flowery with the latter.* It's all very matter-of-fact semen-impregnation business (after all, where do you think all those unstoppable soldiers come from?).

But the main takeaway from the writing is that Andrew Smith is one gutsy story teller. And I'll just leave it at that, since anything else I can think to add seems to have a whiff of spoiler.

*GOOD, 'cause I would not be able to handle more of that right now.

Bonus Factor: Genealogy

What does a Polish man exiled to Tsarist Russia have anything to do with the infestation of overgrown bugs in Ealing? Well, they're both a part of Austin's history, and the stories of his ancestors are interspersed throughout the book.

Bonus Factor: Boners

So, Austin gets horny. Like, A LOT. The kid gets aroused by practically everything -- especially by Shann and Robby (and also Shann AND Robby, if you know what I mean). So that thing about guys thinking about sex every seven seconds? Preeeetty much.

Bonus Factor: Ripley's Believe It or Not

Yo, there is a LOT of weird science going on in Ealing (aside from the obvious), but none of it looks like Kelly LeBrock. I'm talking creepy-crawly, freaky-deaky, squirm-in-your-seat shit. It's not a lot, but it's exactly the sort of mad science that gives me the heebie-jeebs.

Bonus Factor: Giant Praying Mantises

Normal bugs might be annoying, but magnified ones are fucking terrifying, y'all. Sure, it's all fun and games when they're small enough to get squashed by my shoes. But without that size advantage, I suddenly feel V. V. AFRAID. 

In battle, a six-foot-tall praying mantis could easily destroy a six-foot-tall grizzly bear. They were like grizzly bears with steel plating and lightning-fast arms studded with row upon row of shark's teeth. 

P.S. You're welcome for that new irrational phobia.

Casting Call:

Young Devon Sawa as Austin

We've been squeeing over him at FYA HQ lately (because shouldn't we always?), so when I saw that he's Polish, there really was no other choice for Austin.

Young Christian Slater as Robby

Likewise, I thought of no one else for Robby, he of the perpetual cigarette in mouth.

Young Michelle Williams as Shann

And although I can totally see Chloe Moretz as Shann, I'm all about sticking with a theme.

Relationship Status: You're a Real Dynamo, Kid

The minute I found out about this book, I knew I was HOOKED. And when I finally got to know it, it did not disappoint. It kept me on my toes, with its irresistible blend of humour, heart, and family history. Book, I'd gladly have your back in a fight against an army of unstoppable six-foot tall praying mantises. You know what I mean.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Dutton Juvenile. I received neither money nor froyo for writing this review (dammit!). Grasshopper Jungle is available now.

Grasshopper Jungle is the FYA Book Club selection for January 2015!

Mandy Wan's photo About the Author: Residing in Edmonton, AB, Mandy unabashedly loves YA lit, frozen desserts, and terrible puns.