skip to Main Content

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE
Written by Andrew Smith
(Speak; $10.99, Ages 14 and up)

 

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

GrasshopperJunglecvr.jpgIf you’re a YA reader and haven’t read Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith yet (in trade paperback as of February 2015, Speak; $10.99) — in spite of all the buzz, like a 2015 Michael L. Printz honor and news of an Edgar Wright movie adaptation — get to it! Maybe you don’t like science fiction. No problem; the six-foot tall man-eating praying mantises come off as campy rather than horrific. Maybe you don’t like troubled narrators who use expletives every other word. Well, if Holden Caulfield didn’t help you get over that, maybe Austin Szerba will do it for you. Austin’s horny all the time, smokes most of the time, and often breaks rules just for the heck of it. But in spite of the trouble he gets into and the bad decisions he makes, he’s likable and sincere, and his adolescent mistakes provide a thought-provoking contrast to the nightmares the full-grown adults in his world engender — in their personal lives, in politics, and in ethics-impaired science.

Austin’s story takes place in small-town Ealing, Iowa in the early twenty-first century U.S. His brother is fighting in Afghanistan, and the economy is failing. The Ealing Mall, along with the neighboring field that Austin and his best friend Robby named Grasshopper Jungle when they played there as younger kids, has turned mostly into a junkyard. When Austin and Robby sneak into a locked office in one of the few remaining stores, they discover specimens from a 1960’s era Department of Defense research project. The specimens, accidentally unleashed by Austin (or, one could argue, by the bullies who steal the specimens after Austin finds them), develop into Unstoppable Soldiers, the aforementioned monstrous bugs that do indeed look more like praying mantises than grasshoppers, in spite of their provenance in Grasshopper Jungle.

Keeping notebooks with drawings and text about everything he experiences, Austin defines himself as a historian. His voice is fresh and humorous but also full of pain and sadness for his own hurts and those of generations past. Although he frequently uses an Anglo-Saxon term for “excrement” and drops a few f-bombs, Austin enjoys speaking eruditely and notices when anyone else uses even slightly elevated language, too. “She used words like moment,” he says about his girlfriend Shann. “The way she talked made me horny.”

That’s Austin in a nutshell. Almost everything makes him horny, but the way he reports this feels natural, not uncomfortable. Austin doesn’t consciously focus on sex. It’s just there, all the time, whether it’s convenient for him to be thinking about it or not. And he’s dealing with the fact that he’s overflowing with sexual feelings not just for Shann, but also for Robby, who is gay. Austin is confused, “…wondering how it was possible to be sexually attracted and in love with my best friend, a boy, and my other best friend, a girl…. There had to be something wrong with me. I envied Shann and Robby both so much for being confident in who they were and what they felt.”

Readers who identify with Austin’s confusion — whether over sexuality or one of the many other dilemmas he deals with — will enjoy this book. Readers who love the outrageous visuals of low-budget sci-fi horror will relish the scenes with huge bugs hatching out of human beings and feasting on what’s left of them, alongside destroyed cop cars and exploding bridges; there’s also a really cool underground bunker. Readers looking for a philosophical take-away will think about science, and responsibility, and history.

Author Andrew Smith is a social studies teacher, and for me the biggest growth in Austin and the biggest takeaway from Grasshopper Jungle is a developing understanding about the purpose of recording history. Austin tells us history has “to be an abbreviation. Even those first men…who painted on cave walls in Lascaux and Altamira, only put the important details down. We killed this big hairy thing and that big hairy thing. And that was our day. You know what I mean.” The novel circles back to this idea again and again, asking the questions: which details are the important ones? And what should we do about them if we ever figure that out? These are important questions, and Smith’s book is a satisfying way to explore them.

– Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

Share this:

Half-Life by Tina Ferraro Book Blitz

HLblitz2

Half-Life by Tina Ferraro
Leap Books, 2015 (March 24),
108 pp., Kindle Edition $1.99
& Rafflecopter Giveaway

 

Probably not a good idea to take advice from your dead twin sister.

Half-Life, Tina Ferraro’s new YA novella from Leap Books, is my favorite kind of ghost story: one in which the ghost is someone you are happy to see and wish would stick around. I’ve read several of Ferraro’s teen romances — she’s been a finalist for the Romance Writers of America RITA award twice — and while the supernatural twist is new, the elements I enjoy most in her books are all here: a main character who is frank, funny, and a bit clumsy; family dynamics that are real and give the story depth; and a sweet, good-hearted love interest. Thankfully, the love interest is not the ghost in question (that could get awkward!). Rather, the ghost is main character Trisha Traynor’s identical twin sister Chessie, who died from a virus when the twins were just five. Soon after Chessie died, Abby Lowe became Trisha’s best friend, helping fill the void Chessie left in Trisha’s life.

HLquote2b

Now that Trisha and Abby are sophomores in high school, Abby is obsessing over a new boyfriend, and Trisha feels like she’s been dumped. Who can you turn to when your best friend turns away? Trisha’s mom is always super busy, determined to live exclusively in the present so she doesn’t have to address her grief and guilt over the death of her child. Since Mom’s no help, Trisha finds support in a very unexpected place. On Halloween night, Chessie appears as a reflection in a mirror with a plan to help Trisha fix her friendship with Abby. The first action item: get Trisha a boyfriend of her own, pronto.

Sensing a supernatural time limit (Chessie keeps consulting an invisible wrist watch), Trisha sets her sights on attainable Chadwick O’Reilly instead of her longtime crush, drop-dead gorgeous Kirk Maxwell. But Trisha’s choices aren’t all working out so well. The more she sees of Chadwick, the creepier he looks. She assumes Kirk is out of her league, but maybe he’s actually interested? And not even Chessie can understand why Trisha is willing to risk everything to get on the good side of her mean-spirited next-door neighbor, Dawn Dupree.

– Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

Goodreads 

Amazon 

B&N 

Leap

tn3Author Bio: Tina Ferraro been writing since she learned to hold a pencil, and sold upwards of a hundred short stories to national magazines before turning to novels. She is the author of three Random House novels, The ABC’s of Kissing Boys, How to Hook a Hottie and Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress, which have received distinctions such as the ABA Book Sense Award and two RITA nominations.

Her fourth YA, The Starter Boyfriend, has spent time on Amazon’s Top 100 Lists. She lives in Los Angeles with her rocket scientist husband, two cats and whichever of their three young adult children is in town. When not writing, she enjoys playing Facebook Scrabble, swimming, and chasing coyotes out of her neighborhood.

Twitter 

Facebook 

Website 

RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Others on the Blitz:

March 16th

Word to Dreams

A Little Bit of R&R 

Twinning for Books 

March 17th

Tattered Book Blog 

Somewhere Over Yonder 

Forever Lost In Other Worlds 

March 18th

After the Last Page 

Electively Paige 

Queekie Girl Reads 

March 19th

Reese’s Reviews 

CiCi’s Theories 

Girl With Pen 

March 20th

Michelle’s Minions 

Lindsay and Jane’s Views and Reviews 

Good Reads with Ronna 

March 23rd

Jessica Bayliss 

Ali’s Books 

Emma Michaels 

 

Share this:

Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn

✩Starred Reviews – Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal & Booklist

complicit-cover.jpg

From the very first page of Complicit (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2014, $19.99, Ages, 14 and up), author Stephanie Kuehn keeps readers off-balance, trying to figure out what’s true and what’s right. The YA psychological thriller opens at 3:29 a.m. with the narrator’s phone ringing. “I like to be prepared,” Jamie says, “so I sleep with my phone beneath my pillow just in case someone calls. No one ever does of course.” But the phone is ringing, and already something doesn’t add up.

At breakfast, Jamie figures out the call was probably from his sister Cate, who has just been released from prison, much to the family’s dismay. Another problem for the reader: how could a teen do something so awful that even her parents and brother completely give up on her? On hearing that Cate is free, Jamie’s hands go numb, which is inconvenient because he has all sorts of routine high school activities planned for the day, including playing piano in the school jazz band. There’s nothing routine about the condition that occasionally makes his hands limp and useless, though: “even the big-shot doctors down at Stanford can’t figure [it] out”.

In other words, before the first chapter is over, it’s easy to like Jamie and empathize with him, but there are also already lots of questions about the past he shares with his troubled sister. It’s the beginning of a wild ride that forces the reader to consider the repercussions of shielding people from painful truths. Also, does hiding someone else’s bad behavior make you complicit in the crime?

I recommend this book to all teens and adults who like a thriller and can handle Hitchcockian violence — there are some horrors to imagine in Complicit, but the violence occurs off-stage. This is author Kuehn’s second novel. Her first, Charm & Strange, won the 2014 William C. Morris Award for outstanding YA debut.

Click here for downloadable discussion questions.

– Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

Share this:

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

Noggin by John Corey Whaley is reviewed by Mary Malhotra.

☆starred reviews – Publisher’s Weekly & Booklist

John Corey Whaley’s debut novel won the Printz and William Morris prizes in 2012. His latest YA novel, Noggin (Atheneum Books for Young Readers 2014, $17.99, Ages 14 and up), is a worthy follow up, with unique and lovable characters put into a situation that is intriguing, heartbreaking, and a little creepy.

Noggin is about a boy named Travis Coates who has just experienced a medical miracle. noggin-cvr.jpg Travis volunteered. He didn’t think it would work, and if it did, he didn’t think he’d come back for at least a hundred years, when everyone he knew and loved would be gone. It would be sad and lonely at first, but uncomplicated. Instead, just five years after ending his battle with leukemia by having his head cryogenically frozen, Travis finds himself in a hospital bed, alive and adjusting not only to the transplantation of a healthy body onto his old head, but also to the changes in his world.

In a way, the book picks up where John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars leaves off. Travis and the people who love him have experienced all the challenges and pain of losing a teenager to cancer. Travis wants to re-wind to before he got sick, physically and emotionally still sixteen and in high school, but the people he left behind — his parents, his girlfriend Cate, and Travis and Cate’s best friend Kyle — have gone through five years of letting go, growing up, and moving on, with varying degrees of success. Going to school (where the only thing that hasn’t changed is the presence of a hated math teacher) is difficult for Travis, but it’s even harder trying to reconnect with Kyle and Cate. Kyle has an awkward secret, and Cate avoids Travis entirely, which is not surprising considering she’s now engaged to someone else.

Noggin explores some hefty questions while somehow keeping a light and funny tone throughout. Flashbacks fill in the life old Travis had before he lost his head. New Travis deals with being a celebrity (or maybe a freak?), even at school where his only friend is a quirky, funny, and absolutely dependable kid named Hatton. Meanwhile, Travis thinks about the secret Kyle told him when he was dying. Should he let Kyle keep pretending it never happened? Travis wonders about the life and death of the boy whose body he is using and forms a support group of two with the only other surviving cryogenic regeneration patient.

But the Travis/Cate dilemma is the heart of the story. He wants her back. If love and loyalty are meant to be forever, is it healthy and normal to move on when your soulmate dies (sort of)? Or is it a betrayal? If Travis truly loves Cate, should he work to win her back, or stay out of the way of her newfound happiness?

I highly recommend this book. I immediately connected with Travis, and found myself wondering how my world might change if I checked out for five years. The Travis/Cate problem is one I love to hate — I don’t know how I would face it in real life! Most of all I appreciate Whaley’s realistic and hopeful take on how we manage to keep on living after experiencing loss.

Share this:
Back To Top
%d bloggers like this: