Friday, February 28, 2014

And this was our day

 Andrew Smith's Grasshopper Jungle is certainly strange. It won't be for everybody. However, it is dangerous, violent, very funny and exceedingly compelling. The narrative voice is engaging, honest and completely unique (well, perhaps a younger brother to a certain Caulfield or Billy Pilgrim), Throughout his winding narrative Austin Szerba explores war, history, lust and human nature. Oh - and the end of the world.
 But no historian could ever put everything that happened in a book.
 The book would be as big as the universe, and it would take multiple countless lifetimes to read.
 History necessarily had to be an abbreviation.
 Even those first men - obsessed with recording their history - who painted on cave walls in Lascaux and Altamira, only put the important details down.
 We killed this big hairy thing and that big hairy thing. And that was our day. You know what I mean. 
 It was hard for me, at times, to separate out the connections that crisscrossed like intersecting highways though and around my life in Ealing.
 It was the truth and I had to get it down.
 And that was our day. You know what I mean.
 I took off my boxers and went to bed.
 It was 6:01 a.m.
 The end of the world was about four hours old. Just a baby. 
So it's the story of the end of the world, brought about after Robby and Austin discover a strange strain of a mysterious plague. But various threads intertwine throughout the narrative and you've got to keep up. Amid the the newly-hatched Unstoppable Soldiers, Austin talks about his ancestors, who came to America from Poland and had their consonants taken from them on the way (Szczerba became Szerba), in almost the same breath as he talks about life in (very "middle America") Ealing Iowa, Lutheran Brothers' reading habits (no books about masturbation, please), urinals, diving bells, his mother's addiction to Xanax, his brother deployed in Afghanistan. Then there's his feelings towards his girlfriend Shann and his even more confused feelings towards Robby.

This is smart, weird YA. Like Going Bovine by Libba Bray, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, or King Dork by Frank Portman* – and I’ll admit it’s a massive story to take in. But it is totally worth it.

You know what I mean. 

*Did you hear? There's going to be a sequel soon, King Dork Approximately. Isn't your delight just doublish thanks to the Bob Dylan reference? Yes, yes it is.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Begin as you mean to go on

And I am a creature of habit, so 2014 will contain many books and much coffee. Fortunately these things are in ready supply, especially icy lattes from Top Paddock (pictured) and A Minor Place (not pictured, but often consumed).

February also heralds the release of Grasshopper Jungle. It’s as if John Green and Stephen King had a baby. Plus giant, horny, flesh-eating bug people. Grasshopper Jungle has the feel of a smart, cool, laconic contemporary YA – complete with an edgy, cynical male narrator who is always thinking about sex, cigarettes and sex (a little reminiscent of Holden Caulfield) – but this is also a story about the end of the world, as a manmade plague creates a strain of Unstoppable Soldiers in the form of giant praying mantises who take over a small town in Iowa (and then the world). I goddamn loved it.

So roll on 2014. You're looking awfully pretty so far.