Friday, January 31, 2014

Blogging Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith Part 4

I'm getting behind on these. Damn the snowpocalypse!

I'm actually further along in the book than I'm going to blog about today, but I'm trying to keep these somewhat uniform. So I finished Part 1: EALING the other day, actually, but I'm blogging about it today, because.


I love that I'm finally getting to redact some of these.

These are some of the best lines from those sections:

I have read that the human memory for smells is one of the most powerful bits of data that can be etched into our brains.

The pictures were there to remind us what good teenage boys do with their hands.

I desperately wished they'd stop talking about the penis in the jar, but Grant and his friends were like lonely parakeets in front of a mirror.

It's difficult to avoid the truth when you're undressed.

Aren't those some great lines?

My favorite part about this part is that the plot really begins to come alive. I mean Andrew Smith novels are not about plots, they're about characters, but of course every story has a plot, and this one does not disappoint. I won't give it away or anything, but there's something that happens in one of these sections, that when I first read the book a few years ago, literally made me sit up and say, "Holy shit!" Like out loud, and everything.

You know what I mean.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Blogging Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith Part 3

The corn. It's unstoppable.

Actually, not yet. I haven't gotten that far.

I did a little casual reading this weekend. Normally, I would have devoured this whole book in those few free days, but I've read it before, and I'm trying to pace myself. Sort of trying to make it last until release day. Anyway, I read these sections this weekend:


Without giving too much away, plot-wise we're still in the very beginning of the book. Still meeting the characters, getting to know the town, and having the pudding-skin slowly peeled away from the madness underneath.

Here are some of my favorite Austin Szerba one-line zingers from this part of the book:

I might just as well have been a blowup doll.

Boys who dance are genetic volcanoes.

It wasn't a lie; it was an abbreviation.

I was on the conveyor belt toward the paper shredder of history with countless scores of other sexually confused boys.

If we didn't hate being Lutherans so much, Robby could easily have been a preacher.

And finally, my favorite part of this section of the book is the not-chapter titled STUPID PEOPLE SHOULD NEVER READ BOOKS. In it, Austin describes how he wrote a book report on THE CHOCOLATE WAR, by Robert Cormier, which I recently read and reviewed (and loved), and it's so hilarious and typical and just completely authentic the way the administration at his Lutheran school responds.

I would tell you all about it, but you should really just read the book (GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE and THE CHOCOLATE WAR, for that matter).

Friday, January 24, 2014

Blogging Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith Part 2

Why is all the imagery associated with a book called GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE of Preying Mantids? Well, you'll just have to read it to find out.

I realized last night while reading, that this was kind of a dumb idea. I mean, I love this book like I love all Andrew's books, and I want to share that love with everyone, but the idea of blogging about each section as I read, a few short weeks before the book releases, is kind of dumb. It's dumb because I don't want to give the plot away, and that makes it hard to write about.

Oh well. So what, right?


I realize now I'm eventually going to have to redact some of these section titles. Partly because they are just too awesome, and partly because they will eventually spoil some parts of the plot (maybe).

There's a great review of Grasshopper Jungle on Goodreads, by a guy named Chris. Chris really gets these section titles.

You'll find when you read this book that the section I read last night is not that long. That's partly because I was busy writing, and partly because when I start reading in bed I get tired fast, and partly because this book is so good, you kid of have to savor it.

So anyway, some things that struck me while I was reading last night:

  • This story is about a lot of things, but mainly this story is about Austin and Robby.
  • In this section is when we are first introduced to the double meaning of Grasshopper Jungle: a History. If you know Smith's books, you know they're often intertwined with ghosts of the past, or characters from centuries gone, or ... history. It makes a great double entendre.
  • The Del Vista Arms is a locale in the story that comes up a lot. Del Vista means Of the View. Arms has to do with American imitation of English inn names. Such as Court, Hall, Manor, etc. It could also come from British pub names, referencing Coat of Arms. It's one of those silly American misappropriations of language that are common in the Midwest, and of course, hilarious.
  • One of the funniest threads you'll hopefully notice when you read this book is that Austin is acutely aware of the odor of things. In this section it just starts out as socks, but soon it get's a hell of a lot funnier.
  • Hy-Vee is first mentioned on page 20. Hy-Vee is awesome:

  • One of my favorite things about the narrator Austin's voice is how he interjects these clever staccato (sometimes sarcastic, sometimes incredibly wise) lines into his exposition, and they work brilliantly to chop up the pace, make you think, or just plain make you laugh your ass off.
Here are a couple examples from this section of the book:

Citrus does not grow in Iowa.

History is full of decapitations, and Iowa is no exception.

And that's half a century of an Iowa town's history in four sentences.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Blogging Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

I've finished my 2014 YA gap book reading (The Chocolate War, Speak, and Holes were all phenomenal), so now I'm treating myself to my ARC of Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith.

Moreover, since we're getting pretty close to the release date now, I thought I'd blog daily about my thoughts as I read. This book is a crazy thrill ride (I've read it before) so I think it will be fun for people to see how I react to certain parts ... without giving too much away.

So, last night I didn't have time to read much, but I started with PART 1: EALING. It begins:

This section, which isn't really a foreward or a preamble or a prologue or anything like that, is still special. For one, it's not labeled. Most of the other sections (kind of like chapters but kind of not) have awesome labels. Things like FIXING FEET, BUGS DO TWO THINGS, and GRANT WALLACE MURDERED ME. They're all clever, funny, and important to the book. But this section isn't titled like the others.

What it is, I think, is a brilliant promise to the reader. Most of you are writers, so you've probably heard of the saying the first page makes a promise to the reader. That's not all it does, of course, but it's one thing it does. This section promises that Grasshopper Jungle is a history. A history of the end of the world, to be precise, but most importantly: a history. A history in which people, as they are wont to do, keep doing dumber and dumber shit. This section promises that this story will be a wild thrill ride, filled with madness and mayhem and love and loyalty and friendship and family, and always--always the truth. This section hints at some of the details of the crazy things to come, showing the reader just how nuts the plot of this book is going to get, but it also clues you in to Austin Szerba: how he thinks, how he writes, how much he cares about recording the history of the end of the world.

Somebody has to.

Anyway, I read a little further than that, obviously, but this section has always stuck in my mind, so I wanted to share it with you. I'll be back tomorrow for more, but I won't be breaking down the details of every page or anything. Just ruminating a bit on what sticks out to me and so on.

Hopefully this will help to build some excitement as we approach the release of one of my all time favorite novels.

Stay tuned, because at the end of all of this I'll be giving away a copy that I owe my readers after betting Andrew on the Braves/Dodgers MLB Divisional playoffs last fall (I know, I'm pretty late on that - sorry).

The book drops on February 11th 2014 from Dutton Juvenile (Penguin) and you can find out more at:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Radiance of Tomorrow, by Ishmael Beah on NPR's Morning Edition

I heard this story on NPR this morning, about a former child soldier turned novelist, and I was deeply moved by some of the language and imagery I heard.

You can hear the full story, on NPR's website: here.

The poetry that stuck with me was near the end of the story, when Ishmael Beah was describing his native language, Mende, which is a tonal language (meaning that meaning is often derived from tone) and is apparently very image driven. A few examples of beautiful phrases they use are:

A soccer ball might be called a nest of air.

If night falls suddenly they might say the sky rolled over and changed its sides.

Have you ever heard anything so beautiful? Remember, this is a former child soldier speaking.

Monday, January 6, 2014

2014 YA Reading

I'm finally doing one of those years where I actually keep track of every single book I read. For now I'm just using my phone, but I'll eventually update Goodreads. I'm hoping to get to 40 books. I'm a somewhat slow reader, so 40 books would be a good number for me.

Anyway, for Christmas I got this (from my dear friend Amy Del Rosso):

It's a t-shirt and the ARC of Grasshopper Jungle, by my very favorite author, Andrew Smith.

Luckily, I read an earlier ARC of this story, because I'm going to use my enthusiasm for reading this new copy to encourage myself to read three of my biggest kid lit gap books:

The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier

Jerry Renault ponders the question on the poster in his locker: Do I dare disturb the universe? Refusing to sell chocolates in the annual Trinity school fund-raiser may not seem like a radical thing to do. But when Jerry challenges a secret school society called The Vigils, his defiant act turns into an all-out war. Now the only question is: Who will survive? First published in 1974, Robert Cormier's groundbreaking novel, an unflinching portrait of corruption and cruelty, has become a modern classic.

Before there was such a thing as Young Adult (three years before I was born, in fact), Robert Cormier wrote one of the all time classic books about teens. I'm reading this one now, and am duly impressed by Cormier's grasp of character.

Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won't talk to her, and people she doesn't even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that's not safe. Because there's something she's trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth. This extraordinary first novel has captured the imaginations of teenagers and adults across the country.

I know all about this book. I even participated in the SPEAK LOUDLY Twitter campaign when it was (once again) being challenged, but I still have not read it. I know, I know. This one's up next.

Holes, by Louis Sachar

And so, Stanley Yelnats seems set to serve an easy sentence, which is only fair because he is as innocent as you or me. But Stanley is not going where he thinks he is. Camp Green Lake is like no other camp anywhere. It is a bizarre, almost otherworldly place that has no lake and nothing that is green. Nor is it a camp, at least not the kind of camp kids look forward to in the summertime. It is a place that once held "the largest lake in Texas," but today it is only a scorching desert wasteland, dotted with countless holes dug by the boys who live at the camp.

The trouble started when Stanley was accused of stealing a pair of shoes donated by basketball great Clyde "Sweetfeet" Livingston to a celebrity auction. In court, the judge doesn't believe Stanley's claim that the shoes fell from the sky onto his head. And yet, that's exactly what happened. Oddly, though, Stanley doesn't blame the judge for falsely convicting him. Instead, he blames the whole misadventure on his "no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather." Thanks to this benighted distant relative, the Yelnats family had been cursed for generations. For Stanley, his current troubles are just a natural part of being a Yelnats.

At Camp Green Lake, the warden makes the boys "build character" by spending all day, every day, digging holes: five feet wide and five feet deep. It doesn't take long for Stanley to realize there's more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake. The boys are digging holes because the treacherous warden is searching for something, and before long Stanley begins his own search—for the truth.

Fate conspires to resolve it all—the family curse, the mystery of the holes, the drought that destroyed Green Lake, and also, the legend of Kissing Kate Barlow, an infamous outlaw of the Wild West. The great wheel of justice has ground slowly for generations, but now it is about to reveal its verdict.

Having won a Newberry, I can only assume this book is more MG than YA, but the forced labor camp for young people aspect has often been compared to similar thematic elements in my own writing, so I figure it's another must read. No I have not seen the movie, and no I will not see the movie, since I can't stand Shia LeBouf.

What are you reading right now?