I'm not quite sure where to start with this review. It seems unfair to recommend and review a book by first raving about the author's previous novel, but I think that Grasshopper Jungle is unique enough to warrant a bit of back-tracking.
Adam Smith has been writing for years, but the first Smith book I read was Winger, which came out in May of 2013. This book is beautiful and perfect. Funny, heartbreaking, and so painfully true at giving voice to Ryan Dean West, the brilliantly awkward yet charming 14 year old rugby player who narrates Winger.
I've been recommending Winger to anything with a pulse that I've had a chance to bump into over the past few months and I already knew that I would be reading the next book that Smith wrote. So when I saw the advance buzz about Grasshopper Jungle, I placed my hold immediately, even though I knew that the book was about six foot tall insects that destroy the planet.
Yes, if you want to read this book you'll have to be okay with reading about giant, hungry bugs, and no, I'm not talking about giant grasshoppers as a metaphor for humanity's natural desires for destruction and consumption (although Smith deftly weaves that in as well). Much of the story and plot really is about humongous, genetically modified insects whose only urges are to eat and procreate.
So why does Grasshopper Jungle work, and most importantly, why should those folks who loved Winger at least give it a try? Because as he does in all his novels, Smith is a master at beautifully revealing the inner lives of teenagers, specifically teenage boys. Austin, Grasshopper Jungle's main character and most likely the earth's last remaining historian, reveals his humor, his multitude of worries, and his history while figuring out why people in town are disappearing and how to kill an eight foot tall grasshopper that wants to eat your head. Ultimately, the novel is at its best when Austin struggles with the question, "Is it possible to be in love with two people at once?", and "If you are in love with two people at the same time, what do you do?"
If you've loved any of Smith's previous novels definitely give this one a try. I think this book is great for all teens, especially those questioning their sexuality, but since there is quite a bit of violence and some drug use, I can also agree with many of the reviewers on Good Reads and Amazon.com who recommend it for grades 9-12.
If you are brand new to the amazing world of Adam Smith, start with Winger, or one of his earlier novels, and then work your way up to Grassphopper Jungle. Unless you have a thing for giant bugs...