"Grasshopper Jungle" by Andrew Smith, review by Melissa Fox
It's the end of the world. And Austin Szerba, 16 years old and more confused about life than he feels he should be, is our historian and guide.
Neither is a pretty sight.
The end of the world came about thus: Austin and his best friend Robby were beat up by some local homophobic bullies for being gay (in Robby's case) and friends with the gay guy (in Austin's case, though he's not sure he's not gay, or at least bisexual). As a result, Robby bled on the pavement. Later that night, they broke into Austin's girlfriend's stepfather's office, and were followed by the bully-thugs. The thugs stole the orb of super-strong mutant bacteria, broke the orb on the pavement, where it mixed with Robby's blood, and turned a half dozen people into six-foot-tall, unstoppable praying mantis soldiers that have two purposes in mind: to procreate and to eat everything. (And by everything, I mean Every. Thing.)
Austin dutifully -- and in sometimes graphic detail -- puts this down on paper, because he's a historian, and it's his responsibility to tell as much of the truth as possible. (My favorite observation: "History provides a compelling argument that every scientist who tinkers around with unstoppable shit needs a reliable flamethrower.") And that truth includes his own history, and his family's role in the End of the World, as well as his own personal journey and discoveries about himself, his sexuality, and, well, life. It's a strange mix of the profound and the weird, the hilarious and the obscene, and the small moments that make life what it is, in all its dirty, messy wonderfulness.
It's not a comfortable book to read -- there are no winners, there is no grand "hurrah" moment where everything comes out All Right. But, there is much to think about in this book, and much to talk about. From the way Austin treats women to the satire on small town life to the indirect commentary on corporate tinkering with genetics, Smith has written a novel that defies categorization and expectation.