Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

cover image

Hardie Grant Egmont, 2014. ISBN: 9781742978802.
Recommended for readers 16 years +. Themes: Friends, Sexuality, Family relationships, Science fiction. Grasshopper Jungle tells the story of three teenage friends in the small American town of Ealing, Iowa. Austin Szerba is the story's narrator and much of the book focuses on his complicated relationships with his girlfriend, Shann Collins, and his best friend Robby Brees.
Ealing, the town in which the book is set, is in decline with its major employer, McKeon Industries, having closed down. A significant part of the story takes place in the Ealing Mall where only four small businesses remain open. The Mall is built on a field where Austin and Robby used to ride their BMX bikes and was known to them as Grasshopper Jungle.
Aside from the teenagers' relationships the other significant aspect of the plot involves the world being taken over by giant praying mantises! We learn that McKeon Industries started life manufacturing fertilizer but at some point ventured into genetic engineering and accepted a contract from the United States government to produce a race of 'unstoppable soldiers'. A series of events on a normal day in Ealing results in an old sample of 'Contained MI Plague Strain 412E' being released and Ealing, Iowa, becomes ground zero for the end of the world as we know it.
Austin keeps a detailed diary and sees it as his duty to record history for future generations. Andrew Smith frequently introduces seemingly insignificant facts from the history of the book's characters which, when put together, give the story a 'six degrees of separation' quality. The book is full of clever observations about human nature and the inclination for history to repeat itself.
The cover of this book is very visually appealing to a teenage audience however the amount of content related to Austin's sexual relationships with both Shann and Robby result in it being suitable for older teen readers only.
Nicki Paterson