15 year-old Austin spends most of his time hanging out with his best friend Robby and girlfriend Shann, trying to find something to do in the run-down, small town of Ealing, Iowa. Nothing really happens in Ealing. Except this one time. This one time when Austin and Robby accidentally unleash an unstoppable army of horny, hungry, six-foot-tall praying mantises that only want to do two things.
I picked this up because I was looking for something easy-read and weird, and the premise of Grasshopper Jungle sounded exactly the kind of ridiculous I needed. And while it did live up to being easy-read, weird, and ridiculous, I was pleasantly surprised by how much more the book was about. One of the main themes is sexuality, as Austin spends most, if not all, of the book confused by his feelings for both Shann and Robby (and thinking about his penis, balls, and having sex), Robby is bullied for being gay, and local closeted gay men sneak secretively to a gay bar. It’s also about the connections between everything, particularly through generations of the same family, how a town can slowly be destroyed (by economics, as well as giant unstoppable praying mantises), and what history is.
Unfortunately, as the book went on I found I cared less and less. If I’d lost the book when I was near the beginning, I probably would have picked up another copy, but not if I’d lost it in the second half.
I wasn’t a big fan of the writing style. There was a lot of repetition, which fit with the theme of repeating patterns, but at times grated instead of adding something. The pace also really slowed about half-way through which just didn’t work within the overall book.
None of the female characters were rounded human beings at all. I don’t think this is due to it being from the perspective of a teenage boy, as Austin was supposed to love Shann and Robby pretty equally, but Shann wasn’t fleshed out at all. Or rather, she was mostly just flesh, and very little else: while Robby was a tangible character, I couldn’t tell you much about Shann as a person. I can see that Austin was talking a lot about events in the male part of his lineage leading up to his own, so male characters would naturally get a bit more time and thought, but even the minor male characters in the town had personalities, where the female ones didn’t.
I think this is a novel that would work well as a weird, exaggerated b-movie, but as a book ultimately fails to live up to its early potential.