Who would have thought that a book about giant killer bugs terrorizing a town in Iowa could be so funny, so deft, or so accurate in its depiction of adolescent boys?
Austin Szerba has a lot on his plate. Iowa is crumbling, a small-town getting smaller since its one factory closed. His mother is addicted to tranquilisers, his brother away fighting in Afghanistan. He loves his girlfriend Shann, but knows too that he’s attracted to his best friend Robby, and is desperate to have sex with either, or both of them, and maybe simultaneously. So things are already pretty complicated even before he and Robby accidentally unleash an infestation of man-eating, invincible, giant praying-mantises.
Austin reports on everything that happens with the same deadpan accuracy, musing all the time on a huge variety of subjects, from his own strange family history, to what to name your testicles. The voice is superb, and the many conversations between Austin and Robby a teen dream of sharp comment, in-jokes and their own specially-devised code. At 400 pages the book is quite a read, but don’t be deceived by the apparently random narrative: it’s actually very tightly plotted and everything turns out to have its own place in the story.
In a sense, Grasshopper Jungle is two books in one: on one hand, it’s a touching and true teenage love story (with oh, lots and lots of sex); on the other, it’s a dystopian sci-fi adventure, using the futuristic fantasy to comment on what is happening in our own world. Both parts are equally successful. The love story is moving, awkward, passionate and funny; the sci-fi a scorching allegory on our violent, messed-up culture.
Full of energy, constantly surprising and inventive, this is daft, touching, clever, really original. I will be recommending it to everyone, not just teenage boys, and suggest you buy yourself a copy immediately.