BookPage Top Pick in Teen Books, February 2014

The end of the world is coming, and it will start in the small town of Ealing, Iowa. While skateboarding and smoking in an abandoned alley they’ve nicknamed Grasshopper Jungle, best friends Austin Szerba and Robby Brees are accosted by neighborhood bullies. After a scuffle, the boys’ shoes and skateboards wind up on the roof of a dilapidated pancake house. When they sneak up to the roof later that night to retrieve their missing items, Austin and Robby have no idea that they’re about to witness a series of events that could result in the end of the human race.

Revealing any more details about the plot twists of this edgy, darkly funny work of magical realism would spoil the fun. Instead, readers—like Austin and Robby—can gradually learn what forces have been unleashed by a combination of teen curiosity, Ealing’s flailing economy and the legacy left behind by the town’s questionable past. As Austin narrates his escapades in hilarious, uncensored language, he also reflects on his family’s Polish ancestry, his confusing romantic attractions and the nature of history itself.

No author writing for teens today can match Andrew Smith’s mastery of the grotesque, the authentic experiences of teenage boys or the way one seamlessly becomes a metaphor for the other. Like Smith’s earlier novel The Marbury Lens, Grasshopper Jungle looks at the senseless violence, intense friendship and palpable sexual energy that come together when the world comes apart. Unlike The Marbury Lens, though, it also includes references to 1970s classic rock, bad science-fiction movies, pink lawn flamingos and—of course—giant, hungry, sex-driven, mutant praying mantises. What more could a reader want from contemporary YA fiction?

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