Austin Szerba loves history and so has decided to record the events at the end of the world, events that he has participated in along with his best friend Robby and his girlfriend Shann. While battling mutant preying mantis people (Unstoppable Soldiers), Austin is trying to figure how he can love both Robby, who is gay, and Shann. If all this sounds like serious business, it’s not. Austin is just a very horny guy who can’t stop fantasizing about threesomes. He’s just a small-town Iowa teen who goes to a private Lutheran school, chain smokes, and thinks about how confused he is.
How Austin gets into the mess of trying to save the world from mutant insects is pretty funny, primarily because it makes no more sense that the sci-fi B movies that Smith is playing with. In the 1960s, a mad scientist creates the mutants by experimenting with blood and semen. How these Unstoppable Soldiers can be stopped also makes no sense, but you could imagine just such a plot in a 1960s movie—or I could, and I saw several on Saturday TV in my childhood. Of course, by giving us a scientist who experiments without a purpose and without any concept of the outcome—and who then intends to profit from his mistakes—Smith has the opportunity to add a little social commentary to the mix of sexual intercourse (among mutants as well as humans), eating (human beings as well as food), and teen angst.
Caveat: Though much of it is very funny, this is a novel for mature teens—although the sex isn’t romantic (lots of copulating mutant insects, adult quickies, and a realistic rather than sweet first teen sexual experience), it’s a major theme in the book. F-bombs drop too frequently to dodge. If you’re not OK with profanity and frequently arising erections, this is not your novel.
High school housekeeping: Professional reviews of Grasshopper Jungle are all very positive because it’s different, it’s a send-up of old B sci-fi movies (that reviewers are probably old enough to remember), and it holds nothing back. I, too, assumed that all teens who weren’t offended by profanity and teen sex in a novel would love it. After handing it to some guys at my school, I’ve found that the teen reviews are evenly split between liking the novel and getting too sick of it to finish. Whether you’ll like Grasshopper Jungle depends on your love of sophomoric humor and jokes. It is riotously funny to begin with (again, assuming you are not offended by profanity and teen sex). The jokes about how teen boys are kind of like mutants insects because both only want two things—to f%$# and eat—come fast and thick. (OK, you think of a better way to say it.) If there’s no way in the world you could get tired of those jokes, you are in for a great read. Just like most of the Iowans in the novel, they’re unstoppable.