Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith. This book… this damn book! I knew that this novel is about giant insects destroying the human civilisation. I knew that the main character is torn between choosing his girlfriend or his good friend. I read this book expecting it to be… well, a good read.

And then, everything changed when the Fire Na… wait… that’s not it. I mean, my perception of the book did change, and changed it did, like a lot! The book is rather bizarre. Well, basically this is the kind of book that you’ll get if you combine stories about a sexually-confused Polish-American boy known as Austin Szerba, testicle-dissolving corn, a secret experiment gone wrong that resulted in human-size praying-mantis-like creatures that are sex-crazed and love to eat people, a small town in recession, and possibly the highest number of mentions on teenage horniness you've ever read in a novel.

Teenage horniness… trust me when I say the other books that you read before only have like 1.999% of the words semen, sex, horny, boner, and everything on par with those words. Like, I know teenagers have raging hormones (I’m a student teacher, I know what my students feel…), but really, Austin is like a dynamo, I don’t think he has ever had a day where he doesn’t feel… perk up after he reached his puberty. This is not the kind of book you would categorise as family-friendly, especially for those young uns’.

Like I said, it’s bizarre. I mean two-headed babies and testicles in a globe-like container? Of course, you can’t forget the large praying mantis. They only know how to eat and copulate. These insects are the annihilators of humans worldwide. Pitbull can forget his Mr. Worldwide title because probably those insects might have chopped his head off during their own world tour.

Austin Szerba is a Polish-descended horny boy (I mentioned that before), and he smokes cigarettes. I don’t care about his sexuality, but really Austin, that boy could not make up his mind that he’s a bisexual. He’s quite funny, with his sometimes mundane or peculiar explanations and views of stuff, but I like it when he talks about his family and friends, and I like that everything in his life is connected like a spider’s web, a chain-of-events, because I totally believe in that, a butterfly’s flutter in Gaborone, a raging storm in Montreal sort of thing. There were times though when I wondered on how he manages to actually know about the things happening in like what 150 years ago involving his great-great-grandparents up to his grandparents, you get the idea. He’s really omniscient that way, way too omniscient. But hey, that kid knows, so…

Austin has a friend, Robby, and Robby’s a gay. Their relationship is typical, only that in many cases, Austin seems to deny that he loves Robby, which is of course what you would do if you’re in a relationship with a girl. Austin’s girlfriend is Shann, and as much as I want to believe that Austin really loves Shann and vice versa, I could not help that Austin is using Shann for his own pleasure. I don’t really feel the love between them… it’s more like lust. Anyhow, together they live like the usual American teenagers in Ealing, a town that’s facing recession. Truthfully, and I don’t kid you with this, I felt claustrophobic reading this novel, mainly because of Ealing’s deprived, dreadful conditions (it’s not that bad, but hey, my mind likes to exaggerate stuff, yeah, that brain). To make matters worse, Austin and Robby may have caused the insect-infested apocalypse.

The writing of the book is quite slow in the beginning, but after the first 100 pages, the pace begins to pick up. The book has a large number of flashbacks and history lessons courtesy of Austin, and he likes to repeat certain things (and I don’t just refer to his hor… well, you know what, I stop writing that). Of course, Andrew Smith managed to weave in his wonderful prose to the book, making simple things to hold a higher meaning than what we always think. Also, the book is gory (I haven’t mentioned that, have I?). The way those insects copulate and eat are, how shall I put this, explain rather ‘thoroughly’ that I may not look at praying mantises the same way again. Again, this is not a family-friendly novel. But really, the explanations of the bugs are only introduced during the last 1/3 of the book. It bugged me (bugged, see what I did there haha) as I was itching to know about it earlier. Nevertheless, the book ends with a quite hopeful resolution. Although the book is about apocalypse and experiments and underground bunker and big insects, it is not really a sci-fi oriented story. The novel hashes teenage plotlines of self-identity, relationship, and the human life. Andrew Smith does well in describing Austin’s indecisiveness and troubles in life. If you read Winger, you’ll vouch on that.

Grasshopper Jungle is a really non-traditional book. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure some conservative schools out there will ban the book for you-know-what reasons. Some of you readers may not appreciate its unusual plot, but for me, this highly strange convoluted novel is quite a ride. It may not be the best book I’ve read, but it sure is fun and funny and in many times, my brain managed to do 360 degrees rotations… Read it, and feel free to feel the same. You know what I mean.

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