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Friday, February 7, 2014

Grasshopper Jungle

By: Andrew Smith

If you cross Catcher in the Rye with the 1950's movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers you might get something like Grasshopper Jungle.  The back describes the book to be about "Austin and his best friend, Robby" who "have accidentally unleashed an unstoppable amy.  An army of horny, hungry, six-foot-tall praying mantises that only want to do two things."  After reading the back its pretty obvious that this book is either going to be really good or really bad.  Let's just say it wasn't my favorite.  Ok, so to start with the problems.

1. The back of the book failed to properly portray what this book is really about.
 First of all, it's not really Austin and Robby who "unleash" the preying mantises.  It just so happened that it is the bunch of boys that beat them up earlier that day.  The back said NOTHING about Austin's girlfriend, Shann.  Shann is one of two things Austin thinks about.  The other is his friend Robby.  Something is super important in the book is that Austin doesn't know who he loves more, Robby or Shann.  He tells both he loves them so it really doesn't matter does it?  Which leads me to my next problem.

2. The characters were flat, emotionless, and unrealistic.
Well maybe not emotionless but they had very few emotions.  Hermione Granger's quote sort of portrays how I feel about the number of emotions that characters had, "Just because you've got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn't mean we all have." (thank you JK Rowling for that bit if insight, not everyone seems to understand it)  The only emotions I saw were those of Austin who was a hormonally driven sixteen year old.  And when I say hormonally driven I don't mean just part of the book, I mean the entire book.  As I said, the only things he really thought about were Shann and Robby.  The fact that maybe he should think about his parents or his brother when the world was ending didn't seem to even occur to Austin.  While I did say that the only things Austin thinks about are Shann and Robby I would like to amend that statement.  He only thinks about them in the context of himself.  If they are upset or thinking about something other than him he doesn't care.  In fact, he doesn't even notice.  So when the world is ending, which is the part of the book the back describes, Austin doesn't really think about it.  For the most part we are in Austin's head, so Shann and Robby are really more important than the end of the world (wow that was weird to say).  Also, I just don't understand Shann.  When Austin goes with Robby to pick her up they walk up to her door and when Shann walks out to greet them, she kisses both of them.  Austin goes on to describe how Shann always kisses Robby after kissing him.  That's a little odd.  But because she does this you wouldn't think should would get super upset after hearing that Austin kissed Robby, which she does.  The characters who are supposed to be 16 years old act much younger than they are supposed to be which just makes them even less believable.  I could go on for a while longer about the characters but I figure if you're still reading you've probably heard enough about them.

3. The writing, like the characters, was flat and emotionless.
The idea of show, don't tell, was not present in this book.  So how do I know that Austin experienced these feelings of love towards both Shann and Robby?  Well because Smith explicitly stated that Austin felt confused about why he loved both of them.  I must say its a good thing he did say this because otherwise I wouldn't have realized that Austin had feelings.

4. In order to create a voice/personality for Austin the book became repetitive.
I guess this is sort of where it reminded me of Catcher in the Rye.  Holden Caulfield seemed to have an odd fixation with the word "phony."  Austin had an odd fixation with a couple different words or habits throughout the book.  At first he kept on using the world rather, which he pointed out every time he did.  This died away eventually though.  No matter how far into the book though, Austin never stopped commenting on people's names.  According to Austin people in Iowa don't like names that have a lot of consonants in a row, like Polish names have (Austin is Polish by the way).  The people in Iowa like names that have vowels and are smoother.  Just about every time a new character was introduced Austin made a comment about if the name was a good Iowa name or not.  Another annoying thing Austin did was tell you the same things over and over and over again.  There was a character called Louis who's real name was not Louis.  Every time Austin said anything about Louis he would tell you that that wasn't his real name.  It wasn't just with Louis though, he did it with almost everyone.  It was as if you weren't expected to remember what was said three pages ago.  Another annoying thing Austin did was tell you the same things over and over and over again.  Oh, did I just say that twice?  Austin wouldn't have noticed.  Austin also had a fixation with History.  He believed he was a historian so he had to always tell the truth.  He talks about how he always tells the truth too.  At one point he lies and says that not he is a liar.  But there are at two instances before that where he lies.  He does not always tell the truth.  Also, because he is a historian he feels the need to at random times expound his family history.  It came at odd times when nothing seemed to have sparked the need for him to tell it.

5. The characters were not likable.
I'm really sorry but Austin talked a little but too much about the state of Robby's car as well as how much he smelled.  Apparently Robby never cleans his clothes and in an attempt to keep his room clean he leaves his clothes in his car.  It describes how his clothes are all over the place which is rather disgusting.  I don't think Austin went through an entire day without talking about the fact that he smelled bad.  There are some things the readers don't want to read.  One of those things is that the main character, for like the fifth straight days, smells bad.  A lot of the places Austin and Robby went were described as disgusting places that had garbage (and more gross stuff) all over the place.  I couldn't figure out why they kept going to the same places.

6. The book didn't portray people fairly.
Austin goes to a private Lutheran school.  It made it seem as if Lutherans are hateful, not understanding, and not accepting.  Obviously, this can't be true.  Robby was gay and he brought Austin to a gay bar.  In general, gays were portrayed as lonely and generally unhappy.  This was odd because at the same time I don't think this was the intention.

7.  The plot the book was based off of didn't make up for everything else.
Sometimes when there are problems with the writing or characters the plot is interesting enough to earn a few points.  This was not so.  I compared it to the 1950's film Invasion of the Body Snatchers because of how cheesy the book was.  In Invasion of the Body Snatchers, fake people who look exactly like real people grow from pods and then they replace the real people and take over the world.  In Grasshopper Jungle giant preying mantises grow from mold inside of people and then hatch out of these people.  It could either be done well or not.  As I said earlier, it wasn't my favorite book.

Ok so I didn't like the book.  I think that much is obvious.  But I did love the cover of the book.  It was simply and bright.  The picture above doesn't really capture the color well.  The color is a little more blue but also more neon.  This picture shows the color a little better.  The cover is clear yet mysterious and still has that odd quirk to it.  I can see myself reading a book like this any day (obviously because I picked it up and read it).  But honestly, if you can imagine Holden Caulfield as the main character in the Invasion of the Body Snatchers, then you can pretty much imagine this book.

This book is the thing that Emile eats in Ratatouille.  ( for the first 15 seconds or so)  It isn't really food.  Someone will eat it but that doesn't make it good.  In fact, you probably shouldn't eat it.  It probably smells bad, it probably wreaks.  It has a horrible texture in your mouth because it's not supposed to be food.  It's not the nicest color (not aesthetically pleasing).  As Remi points out, you don't want to eat the garbage, so why read the book?  There is almost certainly something better to read.  Well I know there is something better to read.  There is no reason to choose the garbage over the cheese and grapes that Remi brings.  So basically, don't choose the stuff Emile eats.  This book is a 1.


  1. This book will forever live in infamy at Galley Group.

  2. I beg to differ! I thought it was an outstanding novel - a post-apocalyptic Catcher in the Rye.
    Apparently I'm not alone - The Boston Globe / Horn Book Awards gave it the 2014 Fiction Prize.
    Now that I've thrown down the gauntlet I plan to attend the Dec 18 YAG meeting. - Mr B


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