Every time I read a book by Andrew Smith, I inevitably throw my hands in the air and shout, "Oh,
fuck this, I will never write anything this good." He is the kind of writer who challenges you as a reader, as a writer, and as a human being. His narrators are hardly perfect, which is why we inevitably love them.
I finished reading Andrew's newest book, Grasshopper Jungle, over the weekend. As with all of his books, I'm going to need to read it again before I fully comprehend everything that happened. Andrew's books are like that. Multilayered and thoughtful. I don't imagine there's a single word on any page bearing his name that he doesn't agonize over. It probably makes writing grocery lists difficult.
Grasshopper Jungle isn't about anything, it's about everything. It is a history of the end of the world, it is a coming of age story, it is a love story, it is a history of the Szerba family, it is a book about important people's balls and shitting habits, it is a book about Austin, Robbie, and Shann, it is a book about eating and fucking.
Austin Szerba is kind of an asshole. You should know that up front. I think that's what makes him so real and relatable. I think if you're honest with yourself you'll realize that we're all kind of assholes at one point or another. It's what makes us human. But Austin is also confused. He's in love with his girlfriend Shann and in love with his best friend Robbie. For me, this is the strongest part of the narrative. It feels more urgent than the giant insects that are trying to take over the world, which is how everything feels at that age. Sometimes I see adults review YA books and complain about the single-mindedness and selfishness of the teenage protagonists, and I always wonder if they've honestly forgotten just how immediate and important everything felt when they were teenagers or if they just want to forget how big of an asshole they were at that age.
I'm not sure if Austin is a reliable narrator or not. He believes he's a historian and that he's recording the truth of events as he sees them, but there are enough omissions, especially regarding Robbie, that make me question Austin's reliability. Winston Churchill said, "History will be kind to me for I intend to write it." Since Austin is the writer of his own history, I'm forced to wonder how kind he was to himself as he recorded the events leading to the end of the world.
Speaking of the end of the world...I love the sci-fi aspect of this because it's got a glorious B Movie quality to it. It manages not to take itself too seriously, which keeps it from overtaking everything else that's happening.
Outside of the relationship between Austin and Robbie, I love the weaving together of all the various characters and their histories. That's another thing Andrew has always done well. He roots the present in the stories of the past and shows us how we're all connected to the people who came before.
I'm being intentionally vague about the plot because it's impossible to really explain and because I don't want to spoil a single thing.
The only thing I dislike about Grasshopper Jungle is that it's bound to be such a huge success that Andrew Smith won't be the underappreciated author all the cool kids read anymore. It's going to be more difficult to find someone who hasn't read his books so that I can experience the joy of introducing them to his demented worlds. Grasshopper Jungle proves once and for all that Andrew Smith is by far one of the best writers around. He's practically unstoppable.