I recently read Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith, a modern classic of YA queer fiction, originally published in 2014. Delightfully, it reads like what would happen if Alice Oseman collaborated with Terry Pratchett on Alien fanfiction- authentic teenage confusion meets a dryly humorous take on apocalyptic mayhem. And as a nice bonus, it’s set in Iowa! Whether or not it’s a loving portrait of growing up in Iowa is something you’ll have to judge for yourself…
Grasshopper Jungle is the story of Austin, his girlfriend Shann, his best friend Robby, the interconnectedness of history, and how Austin’s bisexual awakening inadvertently leads to the end of the world via giant murderous insects. Austin narrates using mostly simple, declarative sentences stating the facts, because his ultimate passion is history – how it’s reported, how it’s preserved, how it continues to impact the present. The main history he has to relate is about his town’s legacy of secret science experiments, hidden bunkers, and dangerous plagues that produce 6-foot-tall, unstoppable, carnivorous insects. But while these secrets are being uncovered and the end of humanity draws closer and closer, Austin still can’t stop thinking about sex. He’s always known his best friend Robby is gay, and he’s also always known that he loves Shann Collins. So why can’t he stop thinking about kissing Robby? Is he gay too? How can he know? And how in the world is he going to get it figured out without hurting either of the two people he loves the most?
An accurate, awkward, ultimately endearing portrayal of what being a teenage boy is like, complete with lots of sexual thoughts, angst, and uniquely profound thoughts about family, history, and heritage, this is a good read for those who like coming-of-age stories, coming-out stories, or stories of terrible events ending the world as we know it (not a typical combination, but here it really works in balance).
And good news: its sequel, Exile from Eden, is also available in Rivershare.