It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a meme started by Book Journey. The folks over at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers have given it a children’s/YA spin. I thought it would be a fun way to recap last week’s reading and give a sneak peek of my TBR pile.
Well, it turned out that my Spring Break was also a Blog Break. I hadn’t planned a break, but I was busy with cleaning and organizing my home, helping a friend prepare for a move, and, well, OK, sleeping in and hanging out. I did not, however, take a break from reading 🙂
Last Week’s Books:
Last week I read the delightful middle grade novel The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand by Jen Swann Downey. It tells the story of brother and sister Marcus and Dorrie who are very ordinarily chasing their friend’s mongoose through the halls of the Passiac Public Library when they find a strange new room and the floor dissolves under their feet. The strange new place they find themselves in is Pretrach’s Library, the timeless, place-less headquarters of the Lybrariad, who travel through time and place to make right the wrongs of history. Their arrival is unexpected and so they are distrusted by the librarians and their apprentices. Still, they are allowed to become apprentices, where they prove their worth, solve a mystery, and make some amazing friends. This fantasy is equal parts adventure and humor, and young readers will yearn for more time with Dorrie and Marcus.
As a member of the Ninja Recon Team, I was asked for a list of 10 items I would take from a book and what I would do with them. That’s a bit of a tall order, so I have one really great one instead. I immediately thought of Hermione’s Time-Turner from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (which definitely did not get the attention it deserved in the movie, but I digress). I, of course, can think of so many more things I could do with so many more hours in the day, but I also fear that I would run myself ragged just like Hermione did. Still, I would like to give it a shot.
Where to start, where to start, where to start with Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle? I had been anticipating reading this novel for a couple of months and love that I got to spend some time with it over Spring Break. It is one of the best and most unique novels I have read in years. And the last YA book I said that about was Libba Bray’s Going Bovine.
“All good books are about everything, abbreviated,” says teenager Austin Szerba. And, yes, this book is one of those good ones. It is set at the end of the world, brought about by the accidental release of a genetically-engineered plague, which, when mixed with human blood, causes humans to mutate into giant praying mantis-type creatures which prey on other humans. Austin and his best friend, Robby, are present at ground-zero of the beginning of the end (although at first unbeknownst to them), are thrust into dangerous situations and daring attempts to defeat the infestation, and are still alive “after the world ends.”
But that is only part of the story. Austin not only relates events which are currently happening but also tells the history of his family; the history of his town, Ealing, Iowa; the history of the plague; and the history of, well, everything. At one point, Shann says to him, “I love how, whenever you tell me a story, you go backwards and forwards and tell me everything else that could possibly be happening in every direction, like an explosion. Like a flower blooming.” That makes me see why Daniel Kraus included the book in his read-alike list, “The New Vonneguts.”
But THAT is only part of the story. Austin not only thinks about sex all the time, but also thinks about being in love all the time–with Shann, his girlfriend, who has dated Austin since seventh grade and with Robby, his best friend, who is gay and has been in love with Austin since seventh grade. Austin and Robby kiss, and Austin wonders whether that makes him bisexual. Austin dreams of threesomes with Shann and Robbie. Austin is so uncertain and at the same time so devoted to the two most important people in his life that his conflict is palpable. He knows he loves them both and is probably in love with them both, but he is not sure what to do.
It has often been said that zombie stories are not about the zombies, but about the people who are left. And end-of-the-world stories are not about the end of the world, but about the people facing the end of the world. Grasshopper Jungle is not about Grasshopper Jungle, or the silo, or even the 6-foot tall praying mantises but about Austin’s life, his lust, and his loves, in a world lost. So it goes.