Grasshopper Jungle

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Grasshopper Jungle Book Poster Image
Brilliant end-of-the-world chronicle is unforgettably weird.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 3 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Grasshopper Jungle offers precocious readers Andrew Smith's excellent prose as well as references to poetry ("The Emperor of Ice-Cream" by Wallace Stevens and "Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen), rock 'n' roll (mostly the Rolling Stones and their extensive recordings), the depravity of war, and the magic of sharing your favorite songs, poems, books, and movies with people you love.

Positive Messages

What does it mean to be a hero? Does history repeat itself? How does culture and heritage affect your character? Does love have to be labeled as heterosexual or homosexual to have value? Can you truly love two people at the same time? Why does history repeat itself? These are some of the many questions posed in the story that will make readers think about everything: life, death, lust, love, music, literature, war, parenthood, ancestry, immigration, and the American Dream.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Austin and Robby are remarkably intelligent and realistically adolescent. Yes, Austin thinks about sex a lot, but he also thinks about the journey of his forebears to find love, family, and meaning in the United States. He loves his family, his girlfriend, and his best friend and would do anything for them, even though he's believably self-centered at times. Robby is a "superhero" who bravely saves Austin's life and puts himself in danger to save his mother.

Violence

An act of bullying (a group of teens punch and kick Austin and Robby after calling them "queers") leads to a whole lot violence in the second half of the book. People are infected with a mold that turns them into giant praying-mantis-like bugs that hatch out of their human hosts. The giant bugs have two things on their mind: eating and mating, and both are accomplished violently. The bugs gorily eviscerate and eat people, leading to decapitation and squashed, open, mangled bodies. Whole families and eventually people in town are eaten or trampled by these Unstoppable Soldiers. A young man is injured and left without one leg (or testicles) during his deployment in Afghanistan.

Sex

Teen guys think about sex, and Austin doesn't shy away from sharing just how often he thinks about sex, attraction, masturbation, and the possibility of a threesome with his girlfriend and best friend. Two characters lose their virginity without using any protection, and two male best friends experiment with each other (one is gay and one isn't sure about his sexual orientation). A teen remembers his older brother having a sexual experience with two prostitutes. Adults have sex, and one couple in particular does it three times in one night. The themes of sex, love, sexual repression, and virginity constitute a major focus of the story.

Language

Frequent cursing, in keeping with the teen characters in the story: for example, "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "p--y," "dick," and "bitch."

Consumerism

A few cars and rock albums/bands. Robby drives a Ford Explorer, and Austin pretty much only has T-shirts with band names and logos.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Sixteen-year-olds Austin and Robby smoke cigarettes and drink a bottle of wine. Adults drink, use meth, and discuss their youth when they smoked heroin and pot during the Vietnam War.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that 2015 Michael L. Printz Honor book Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith is a coming-of-age novel that is so compellingly bizarre it's sure to appeal to older teens and adults who appreciate authors such as Kurt Vonnegut, Franz Kafka, and Jonathan Safran Foer. Written from the perspective of a 16-year-old guy from the fictional Midwestern town of Ealing, Iowa, the book features many mature coming-of-age themes, such as sex and sexual orientation, ancestry, family relationships, friendship, war, violence (six-foot-tall praying-mantis-like bugs hatch from people and want to do two things: eat and copulate), strong language, and substance misuse (cigarettes, alcohol). Mature high-schoolers and reluctant teen readers will love the frank descriptions of what it's like to be a smart but confused teenager who finds himself feeling aroused even as the world is falling apart around him.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byeden1 October 7, 2014

A violent, insane love story

GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE is a history. This is all true. All roads converge at the point of Austin Szerba's pen poised at the top of a blank page in a leather... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bycola January 9, 2016
I loved this book. Its great.I really think it would be great movie material. There is a lot of sex stuff mentioned in it though but thats important to the stor... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bycommensenseroseh July 22, 2017

Really really bad

Don't bother, seriously. I could go on about how bad this book is but I'll just lay out the facts. The word horny is used more than the main character... Continue reading

What's the story?

Andrew Smith's nearly indescribable coming-of-age novel GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE chronicles the very bizarre history of 16-year-old Austin Szerba. A self-described Polish Lutheran kid from Ealing, Iowa (a fictional town), Austin tells the reader he doesn't lie. So he admits that he's deeply in love with his girlfriend, Shann Collins (with whom he'd really like to have sex for the first time), but he also confesses he's attracted to his gay best friend, Robby Brees. One fateful day, Austin and Robby accidentally set in motion things that lead to the end of the world...starting with a half-dozen Ealing residents hatching into six-foot-tall praying-mantis-like carnivores who only want to do two things: eat and mate, much like teenagers. As the boys realize they're the only ones who know what's going on, Austin breaks up narrating the oncoming confrontation with the killer bugs with thoughts about everything from his Polish ancestors' travails to his older brother's time in Afghanistan to the list of obvious and unlikely things that arouse him.

Is it any good?

It's a testament to Andrew Smith's considerable skills as a writer that reading this book is reminiscent of reading One Hundred Years of Solitude or Slaughterhouse Five or Everything Is Illuminated. The plot is so scrambled that Austin tells you on the very first page that it includes "babies with two heads, insects as big as refrigerators, God, the devil, limbless warriors, rocket ships, sex, diving bells, theft, wars, monsters, internal combustion engines, love, cigarettes, joy, bomb shelters, pizza, and cruelty." And that's basically all you need to know. The plot goes backward, sideways, and forward all at once, and on every page you realize what a genius Smith is to write this book about history and life and the importance of books for clever teens who will appreciate his candor, authenticity, and mastery of language.

As the bibliophile Austin so acutely explains, "you could never get everything in a book," but "good books are always about everything." It's a bold statement, but Smith is clearly up to the task of writing an incredibly good book. Like any other remarkable book, this one is not for everyone, especially younger teens who aren't mature enough to read the word "horny" without breaking into fits of laughter. But mature young readers -- and, for that matter, adults -- should take in Smith's command of a story that smoothly includes references to volcanoes, the Holocaust, Vietnam, the Rolling Stones, BMX bikes, the vice president's sex life, and unstoppable Iowa corn. Prepare to be sad when the book is over, because Smith has written one unforgettable, hilarious, and heartbreaking tale about what makes us human and happy and passionate about life.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the importance of literature in Grasshopper Jungle. What does Austin mean by saying "you could never get everything in a book," but that "good books are always about everything"? How is poetry a way of bonding for Austin and Robby?

  • Discuss the various genres of the book. It's a coming-of-age story, but there are sci-fi and apocalyptic elements mixed with family chronicle and teen romance. What did you think of the book tackling so many different issues?

  • Talk about how sex and losing one's virginity are major themes of the book. Is the candor about adolescent sexuality authentic or inappropriate? Talk about the significant role of sex in the story and in young adult literature. Is reading about sex different from watching depictions of it on TV or in movies?

Book details

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