Electric Monkey Books 2014
What a great book! Thrilling, funny and as bizarre as bizarre can be. Mix Vonnegut and King, science-fiction romps and B-movies and you get Grasshopper Jungle, a double-feature adventure written in incredible tongue-in-cheek language that surprises in a smooth and laconic way. If you have had enough of girl-against-the world/girl-power novels like Hunger Games or Divergent, try this trio (Austin, Robby and Shann) that is determined to save the world - at least the world of small-town Ealing in Iowa.
Our protagonist and chronicler of events is Austin Szerba, of Polish descent, 16 years old, and highly erratic in his newsflashes and narratives. An army of Unstoppable Soldiers is about to destroy Ealing (and the rest of the world). These Unstoppable Soldiers are, in fact, huge praying mantises that devour any living being that crosses their path.
Apparently, the only people who can stop them are Austin, his gay friend Robby Brees (a 'golden boy' who instils fear in the mantises) and his girlfriend Shann (and, maybe, Saint Kazimierz that is dangling from a chain around Austin's neck).
The science-fiction element is balanced out by a coming-of-age strand, making this a double-feature novel. Like many boys his age, Austin is grappling with his sexuality and his identity. A lot of people, incidents, conversations even, excite him, especially his girlfriend Shann, but also his friend Robby. Just like the praying mantises make his life difficult, so does his infatuation with both Shann and Robby, and in his imagination he hovers between a ménage à trois and just plain sex with Shann to procreate and save the world.
Consequently, Austin is torn between fighting (the mantises), kissing (even Robby) and smoking a lot of cigarettes while discussing all kinds of scientific and more banal topics.
Austin is on the whole a very witty narrator but he also loves to take unexpected turns, or as one reviewer put it: 'He delivers a stream of deadpan internal monologues.' This can occasionally be a bit tiring, but most of the time it is great fun to follow his thoughts.
If you think this is a novel to be enjoyed by a chosen few, then you've got another think coming. The film rights for the book have already been sold and if you want to appreciate the diversity and the often language-based humour of the book, get your copy of the book right now - and devour it!