By Andrew Smith

Dutton. $18.99.

Age 14 and up

The end of the world comes with neither a bang nor a whimper but with a dark chuckle and the ominous click-click of giant insect mandibles in this irreverent, strangely tender new novel by Andrew Smith. Economically depressed Ealing, Iowa, becomes increasingly dire with the accidental release of a long-sealed plague. Before you can say “sh-- like that,” which 16-year-old narrator Austin Szerba says frequently, seven unwitting human hosts have given birth to “cannibalistic bugs as big as grizzly bears.” In desperation, Austin and his best friend, Robby, try to figure out where the creatures came from and how to stop them. Giving heart and a comedic touch to all this science-fiction action are Austin’s ruminations on the detritus of life — plastic flamingos, bug collections, doughnuts and “palatial urinals” — and his confusion over his sexual identity. He is attracted both to his girlfriend and to Robby, who is gay. In an effort to understand how the past informs the present, he muses on his family’s connection with historic events, from his
great-great-great-grandfather’s exile from Poland to his soldier brother’s wounding in Afghanistan. One character describes Austin’s storytelling style as going “backwards and forwards” and “in every direction, like an explosion. Like a flower blooming.” This but hints at the intricately structured, profound, profanity-laced narrative between these radioactive-green covers.

“Grasshopper Jungle” by Andrew Smith. (Dutton Juvenile/Dutton Juvenile)

Mary Quattlebaum