Monthly Archives: January 2014

Staff Review: Grasshopper Jungle

9780525426035Grasshopper Jungle

Andrew Smith

Penguin Group USA (Dutton Books)

$18.99

Available February 2014

You just never know what you’re going to get with Andrew Smith’s books (Winger) , and Grasshopper Jungle is no exception.  This novel is pure GMO-run-amok fun. Combining it with teenage boy humor is genius, and I laughed myself silly while reading it. It is FUN, and, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m always looking for something that might appeal to a teenage boy, especially reluctant readers. Teenage boys crack me up, because they are so out there, open, honest, and unapologetic. There are some serious issues in this novel too (besides the bugs): sexual orientation, poverty, missing family members, bullying, prejudice, but Grasshopper Jungle is certainly never preachy.

The takeaway lesson here is to never mix grasshopper semen with corn pollen and human blood, because what you get is “an army of horny, hungry, six-foot tall praying mantises that only want to do two things”, namely, eat people and fornicate. (I do have a slight quibble here: is it praying mantises or grasshoppers? Praying mantises are predatory carnivores and would actually make more sense than grasshoppers, which are herbivores and eat only plants!)

When the local bullies go after high-schoolers Austin Szerba and Robby Brees, they inadvertently set in motion a series of events and mishaps that lead to human annihilation. Robby’s bloody nose dripping onto the pavement would normally just be gross and that would be the end of it, but the bullies then break into a secondhand store that just happens to have secret industrial biohazardous experiments encased in glass globes. Since glass globes containing disgusting bug parts are irresistible to teenage boys, they steal one, and OF COURSE drop it right where Robby has bled. It’s pretty much all downhill from there, but at least the bullies get eaten. Unfortunately, so does everyone else, but in the end, Austin, Robby, and Austin’s girlfriend survive. And, as Andrew Smith would say, “And that was our day. You know what I mean.”

~Lysbeth Abrams

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Staff Review: We Were Liars

9780804168397_246a9We Were Liars

E. Lockhart

Delacorte Press

$17.99

Available 13 May 2014

I’m supposed to lie. That’s what they’re telling me at least. According to the publisher’s comments, “Read it. And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.” Well I’m not going to tell you how it ends, but I’m not going to lie either. We Were Liars is a gut-punching book. You could probably tell that from the cover, the title, and the publisher blurb.

I’m not going to lie, but I will talk about the beginning, the writing, and a few of my favorite references. We Were Liars is about the Sinclair family: “the beautiful Sinclair family”. The family owns houses and a small island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. Cadence, the narrator, introduces us:

Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family.

No one is a criminal.

No one is an addict.

No one is a failure.

The Sinclairs are athletic, tall, and handsome. We are old-money Democrats. Our smiles are wide, our chins square, and our tennis serves aggressive.

The story is engaging. The narrator empathetic. But it is Lockhart’s writing style that really draws the reader in to this book. Prose frequently gives way to short, poetic lines that convey scattered memories, and an unsettling urgency. Urgency to make the reader comprehend something that Cadence herself doesn’t fully grasp. The urgency for Cadence that she explain — truly explain — her family; a family that she herself is struggling to understand. From the first page Cadence’s voice is fractured, split, ripped apart. Although she strives for coherence, when it comes to her family, Cadence relies on poetry as poetry can convey emotion, even when meaning is elusive.

Local residents and Cape Cod visitors will appreciate Lockhart’s descriptions of Martha’s Vineyard and I was delighted with the brief mentions of Woods Hole  — not the ferry, of course, the Sinclairs use private transportation. We Were Liars is also infused with references to Robin McKinley, Diana Wynne Jones, Wuthering Heights, and Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books. These direct references are underscored by a plot that is complicated and demands close reading, much like Jones’s excellent books; character allusions to the outsider within — or the insider from without — that informs the plot of Wuthering Heights; and the narrative style of fairy tales that serve to simultaneously distance the story, as if it takes place once upon a time, while still conveying universal truths about family and love.

We Were Liars is smart, thought provoking, and unforgettable. I would never lie about that.

~ Sara

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