Glory be!!! I am thrilled and delighted to report that the gods of storytelling hath smiled upon me and nearly every single book I’ve picked up recently has been like bound gold. Gah!! I don’t even know what to DO with all this book happiness!
Oh, hey, I know… Lets talk about Grasshopper Jungle because that shit was NUTS. And AMAZING. And… jhfdghdarihihpojdkndhpiwjbhdfgh’lon. Which is over-caffinated LilaJune for: “I did not sleep last night because I could not get this damn book out of my head and now I’ve had a lot of coffee and I just have to tell you how much I loved everything about this book ever”.
And I did. I loved it. Every thing about it. Ever.
So where to begin?? Well, I suppose I could tell you what it was about but the truth is I am not completely sure. I guess it was about that one time, when the giant bug creatures hatched out of human hosts and ended the world.
But it wasn’t really….
Maybe it was about Austin, a 16yo HELLA confused and sexually charged Polish Lutheran boy in small town Iowa who’s every other thought is about sex, his balls, sex, his penis, sex, sperm, cigarettes, his girlfriend’s breasts, sex, history, his best friend’s lips, sex, a threesome with his girlfriend AND his best friend… Wait, did I mention something about sex? Actually he has a lot of really insightful things to say. Sometimes they are even not about sex.
But it wasn’t really…
Maybe it was about the history of humanity. Who we are, how we came to be and the rules that have defined our society and shaped our relationships. Or how our personal family history has a way of creeping into our lives and coloring our personalities.
But it wasn’t that either…
What it really was, was all of those things; collected, mushed up, shredded, stirred and buried like kimchi in a great clay pot in the earth to ferment. Which you can’t imagine would ever turn out to be a good idea but once you dig it out somehow it is. And now you’re all ‘LilaJ what the hell do you know about making kimchi??’ Well, the answer is not one bloody thing. I just know it looks a little sketchy but damn is it good!! And that’s my point about the book.
Somewhere, somehow, all those flavors; the bug apocalypse, sexual confusion, history lesson, beautiful best friend with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, hot girlfriend, mad scientist, Casimir Pulaski and the brother in Iraq, blended together into a magically coherent, almost mind bogglingly normal coming of age story about a boy who’s just taking life one day at a time.
I’m still not really sure what I read but I think it was something about the normalcy (a word that generally makes me cringe) encased in all that crazy (like a giant praying mantiss about to violently hatch out of a human host) that won me over. Or maybe it was the apocalypse. I do kinda love a good apocalypse. I certainly spend an inordinate amout of time thinking about it.
Either way, for all his angst about not being normal Austin struck me as one of the most honestly written, normal teenage boy characters I have ever read. Which frightens me actually. And explains A LOT about what was going on in my high school boyfriend’s head all those years ago (suddenly SO many things make SO much sense). To test my theory at one point I turned to my trusty husband and was all “Is this shit for real?” He confirmed it was. Actually, he went into great detail about it, ACK!! So now I’m really glad I never had to BE a teenage boy.
Speaking of honesty, can I just tell you how utterly refreshing it was to read the word sex in a young adult novel? Truly. Sometimes I don’t understand how death and violence are deemed A-ok but sex has us tiptoeing around like Foxface in a minefield (That was a Hunger Games ref btw… you know, that book where all the children died violently but the physicality was super chaste. Except for that one veiled reference to maaaaayyyybe sex at the end?? I’m NOT bashing HG…. I love HG I’m just sayin…) Of course not all books are romances and even the ones that are certainly don’t NEED sex… I’m just occasionally a little mystified by some of the creative euphemisms authors use when their characters DO have sex.
You see, I remember being 16 and I know 16yo’s spend plenty of time thinking about and discussing sex. So while I personally was a bit more like Shann, contemplating it in my journal and trying to act super mature and not at all freaked out. Rather than Austin, who seemed to think about almost nothing else. I think it’s safe to say that its not a foreign concept. In fact sometimes I think all that flowery language that precedes everything going swimmingly (sperm pun in honor of Austin totally intended) and never awkward or so fast it barely registers or painful, creates slightly unrealistic expectations. Guys, I’m sorry if this is TMI but I have never ever spoken to a single girl who’s “first time” was perfect… we were all a bit like Shann. And the guys, well, most of them seem generally pleased but I think it can be a bit confusing and messy for everyone. Basically, I loved how Smith dealt with sex. True, it was fairly vulgar but it also struck me as pretty realistic.
And then there was the writing style. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but as a blogger/book discusser I sometimes struggle to stay on track (Whhhaaaaaattt?!! I KNOW, you’re shocked!) Truth is, I write the way I think. Which I suppose is tantamount to admitting that my brain is a nonlinear clusterfuck…. (Go ahead ASK me about getting the song Casimir Pulaski Day stuck in my head for days after reading this book even though it’s not remotely appropriate!) Well let me tell you, to a nonlinear person reading this book felt like breathing pure oxygen. The way all those stories and thoughts went on their own little journeys, only to do a few loop de loops and then circle on back to weave themselves into one rich and perfectly coherent story was extraordinary. I’d be going along thinking I was reading a somewhat slapstick book about growing up in small town america and the bug apocalypse. When BAM Smith would throw is some heartbreaking story about Austin’s ancestors or his older brother in Iraq and I would suddenly become a LilaJune puddle of feelings.
Oh, and lets not forget that Austin and Robby were beaten up Chapter 1 for being gay. An incident that had far reaching effects ie: directly involved in the birth of the giant world conquering bugs and somewhat less directly responsible for Austin spiraling into a sea of confusion. Because while Robby is gay Austin…. Ya know, I’m still not sure. By the end I got the impression that Austin had decided categorizing his sexuality wasn’t that important. He seemed at peace with himself and he had a lot more pressing things to worry about (like the survival of humanity and all that nonsense). I don’t know if Shann OR Robby totally agree but like Austin, they had other stuff on their plates (definitely NOT testicle dissolving genetically modified corn).
So about Robby and Shann and that sneaky little love triangle.
Robby, Robby Robby…Damn near impossible not love Robby Brees (Austin agrees…honestly I think Shann does too). I found myself wondering over and over if Robby was as put together as he seemed or if Austin just saw him that way. If we had been given a glimpse into Robby’s head would it have been as tumultuous as Austin’s? I don’t know, but I kinda can’t blame Austin for operating under the assumption that Robby had all the answers. Unfortunately I think thats exactly why Austin kept hurting him. Of course even though Robby might have been a bit more mature or rational he wasn’t about to let his best friend take advantage of him. Sure, he loved Austin despite his occasional douchebagery but he didn’t let him get away with being a jerk and I appreciated that. Also he was ridiculously cool.
If Robby was something of an enigma to me Shann was eerily familiar. I don’t know if I recognized myself in her per say so much as 16yo girls everywhere. See, round about that age is the time we start thinking of ourselves as future ‘Women‘ and start trying to workout what that might mean (For the record, I’ll let you know if I ever figure it out). Shann was definitely doing the precarious balancing act between being a good Lutheran daughter (something I am intimately familiar with) and venturing outside the comfort zone of her family.
So about the love triangle.. I’ll admit I didn’t even think of what was going on between Robby, Austin and Shann as a love triangle until I saw it described that way. It’s not that it didn’t have some classic triangular features so much as once Shann and Robby figured out Austin was being a bit of a jerk neither of them felt particularly inclined to play that game. Far too often the object of affection in one of these dreaded geometrical threesomes is worshiped despite the fact that they are emotionally or physically cheating on one love interest and stringing along the other. So while Austin might be guilty of those things Robby and Shann display enough self respect to call him out on it. Whew!!!
And what about the resolution? The bug apocalypse? The hope for humanity Hmmmmmmmmmmm….. Well, I’m really trying to avoid spoilers here so lets just say for a rather outrageous book the end was fairly rational as far as apocalypse scenarios go (I am sort of an apocalypse connoisseur you know).
So, it all comes down to this: would I recommend this book? Well…while the answer to that question is a resounding HELLS YEAH!!! I freaking loved this book (Loved it enough to order it from the Indi shop in the hospital even though I already owned it on Kindle, not to mention, give the owner the third degree for not having it to begin with). I might also be more selective about who I recommended it to than I generally am.
First off, you simply must have a sense of humor and a certain appreciation for outrageousness (Hellloooo did I mention the giant bug creatures that take over the world?). But even if you’re normally a fan of realism I think you could love this book so long as you approach it with an open mind (and maybe some wine). Sometimes the best stories and the most thought provoking ideas are gift-wrapped in crazy.
So here’s what I think… GO READ THIS BOOK!!!!! (If you’re in Chicago you can purchase it at NMH, I heard they have a few copies now ; ) )
So is this book on your list??? (If you’ve ever read and loved anyone like Christopher Moore it definitely should be!) Oh and hey! If you’ve read Grasshopper Jungle I’m slightly desperate for someone to discuss it with! Plus, I think I need to read more from Andrew Smith… anyone got suggestions for which one I should pick up next?