Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2014. 400 pages
CML Juvenile Fiction: JuvFicSmith
Growing up in a small Iowa town, Austin and his best friend Robby spend their days skateboarding, smoking, and avoiding their more popular peers who harass Robby for being gay. Unfortunately, while hanging out behind the consignment store where Austin works, they are cornered by local bullies who not only beat Robby up but also throw their shoes and skateboards onto the roof. Unwilling to part with their belongings, they pick up Austin’s girlfriend, Shann, and that night head to the roof where they eventually break into the "From Attic to Seller Consignment Store." It’s here that they find strange remnants of the town’s nuclear age past and witness the events that lead up to the unleashing of a plague of “unstoppable soldiers” in the form of giant praying mantises. A group of reluctant heroes, Austin and his friends must discover what exactly is Plague Strain 412E and how to stop it before the human race is destroyed.
Grasshopper Jungle is a truly unique story with a brutally honest narrator. Despite the threat of the extinction of the human race, Austin portrays himself as an authentic teenager who fumbles his way through being the last hope of humankind. His fear of the unstoppable soldiers and the destruction they are causing is parallel in magnitude to the confusion of love and attraction that he feels for both Robby and Shann, and readers will be drawn to both his wit and vulnerability. As a historian, Austin records not only the events of the outbreak but also his family’s past and the history of his town, and through these recordings, readers are able to see the connectedness of the past, present, and future.
Although Grasshopper Jungle is a refreshing addition to LGBTQ young adult literature with bisexual male lead, non-LGTBQ readers will be drawn into the story which pays homage to retro science fiction films. Funny, witty, and intense, Smith does a masterful job of leading readers through a freakish yet sentimental adventure. A great leisure read, Grasshopper Jungle should be on every mature reader’s summer reading list.
Bibliotherapy Topics: LGBTQ
Amanda Melilli - Head, Curriculum Materials Library