“Good books are always about everything.” Everything, in Grasshopper Jungle, a good book by Andrew Smith, includes some of the following: horny queer Lutheran teenage boys, underground silos, skating, smoking, family histories, Polish family histories, histories in general, Unstoppable Soldiers, a love triangle, giant bugs, a talking bird, the Vice President’s balls (appropriately named Theodore and Franklin), Satan’s Pizza, Excrementum Sanctum, and the apocalypse…to name a few.
This book truly is about everything. Every time I tried to pin it down to a single genre, a single plot, I couldn’t. That’s how jam-packed Grasshopper Jungle is. And I loved it.
A simple synopsis (and I mean that very literally because it’s missing out a bunch of stuff) is this: After breaking into a second-hand store owned by Shann’s stepfather, Austin, her boyfriend, and Robby, Austin’s best friend, set off a chain of events that lead to the end of the world.
And that’s not even half of it.
The narrator, Austin, has a very concise, exact voice filled with teenage humor. Throughout the narrative, he repeats things constantly. He tells the reader every time something made him horny, he stresses the fact that he does not lie, he reminds us of the names of both his Polish ancestors and the balls of many characters, he records his history of the end of the world much like the cavemen did when they drew bison on cave walls.
You really get to be inside the head of a typical teenage boy. He’s horny all the time, his thoughts wander between various topics that seem unconnected but find a way to cross at certain points that he’s sure to explain, he’s confused about his love for his two best friends, Shannon and Robby, he’s this, he’s that, he’s everything. This book truly is about everything.
I found myself constantly wondering how Austin could possibly know everything that he’s written down. As I read, I began to think that his constant “I don’t lie” catchphrase was totally untrue, and that I couldn’t decipher what was truth and what was a lie. Was he lying about the praying mantis-esque monsters that took over the world? Was he lying about his homosexual great-grandfather’s talking bird named Baby? Was he lying about his friend’s ball being detached in a whaling accident?
After having read the entire book, I don’t think so, but I’m still not sure. That’s just my opinion, though. You can make one for yourself after you finish reading it, too.
Smith has done a wonderful job at explaining what makes a book interesting and telling us flat-out that his book is interesting. Aside from the whole, “Good books are about everything” thing, at one point, Austin also tells the reader, “All my best friends were very complex,” as if stressing the point that complex characters make a book interesting (which is true), and that these characters are complex, so that makes this book interesting—which makes this book even more interesting.
This was one of those books—those addictive, fascinating books—that I could not put down without wanting to continue reading. It’s four hundred brilliant pages of nonstop everything. And, as everyone knows, “Good books are always about everything.”