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Grasshopper Jungle VS 100 Sideways Miles, a Comparison of Equals? Or, What Happens When You Read Two Very Different Books By the Same Author in Close Succession

The Basics

Title: Grasshopper Jungle

Complete time start to finish: 8 weeks

Where I got my copy: Public library

Why it drew my interest: Initially, I was intrigued by Karen’s extremely visceral reaction to the book (read more here.) Then, I started to hear the buzz – and see the stars. Although it’s clearly not a middle school title, I was intrigued.

Book/Author it most reminded me of: Going Bovine by Libba Bray


Title: 100 Sideways Miles

Complete time start to finish: Less than 48 hours

Where I got my copy: E-ARC from Edelweiss

Why it drew my interest: I had literally just finished Grasshopper Jungle the previous week. And I had heard ZERO about this one.

Book/Author it most reminded me of: I’m still pondering it, but my initial response is A.S. King.

The Commonalities

In both books, the featured relationship is between the narrator/protagonist and his best male friend. In fact, these fully realized friendships are probably my favorite part of these books.

Each protagonist has a less than fully realized relationship with his girlfriend, although that may be intentional on the part of the author. I’m not an expert in teenage relationships, but it is completely conceivable that an average teenage boy might not be equipped to form and highly developed and complex romantic relationship. In both cases, however, the female love interest characters are less developed as individuals as well, especially for characters that play such integral roles in the story. Julia, from 100 Sideways Miles is a more complex character, but neither are detailed.

Family is important to both protagonists, and yet absent for a large portion of the book. There is the requisite amount of lack of understanding/respect for authority while having a surprising depth of character detail for many in those positions. Smith is able to communicate the complexities of adulthood as seen through the highly observant eyes of his protagonists.

The Differences
WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!

While both books deal with the everyday life of an average teen – Grasshopper Jungle quickly veers into the realm of science fiction. The back story of a town built by an insane genius who was bent on creating the perfect, unstoppable soldier and instead ended up creating man-sized praying mantises who eventually take over the world is both fascinating and deeply disturbing. As told by Austin Szerba, a boy whose life goal is to extensively journal every event of any significance, we see how his family history is intricately entwined with the coming apocalypse. Despite all of this plot, the book is more about Austin’s confusion over and exploration of his own sexuality than anything else.

100 Sideways Miles‘ connection to science fiction, however, stays firmly grounded in reality. Finn Easton has epilepsy, a direct result of a bizarre accident involving a dead horse falling off a bridge, which resulted in the death of his mother. Nursed back to health by the woman who would become his step mother, Finn’s experience is chronicalled in one of his father’s science fiction novels in a somewhat twisted manner. This novel, for better or worse, is extremely popular. Finn must deal with the fallout fro it on a regular basis. Although Finn is not writer, his description of his seizures is almost lyrical in quality. He also displays his own quirk by his insistence on measuring time passed in increments of ‘sideways miles’ relative to how far the planet has traveled in space during that time. His major struggle is breaking free from the overprotective love of his family. Which he does in rather spectacular fashion in a scene that had my heart racing.

What I came away with
I loved both books, even though they are very different. I think I struggled along so slowly with Grasshopper Jungle both because it is so extremely involved and because it is, essentially, not my kind of book. I do love multifaceted, intricate detail that slowly weaves together into an amazing tapestry of story, though. In the end, I can see why it was so highly praised by critics and readers.

On the other hand, 100 Sideways Miles is exactly my kind of story – with a protagonist to whom I can strongly relate. I doubt it will get the kind of critical acclaim enjoyed by Grasshopper Jungle because it is not nearly as flashy, explosive, or controversial in nature. In the end, however, it is my favorite of the two.


It’s no secret that I adore book based movies. (Really, who doesn’t?) I’ve gone opening night to both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, and I saw Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. I really liked Beautiful Creatures (once I let go of the fact that it was based on the book). I’ve seen both Percy Jackson movies (I like the second better than the first, and will admit that I read the series AFTER the movies). I yelled in theaters at some of the changes they did to the Harry Potter movies. I did miss Vampire Academy, but that was more my schedule than anything else.

And I love hearing that a book is being picked up for a movie, so when they’re picked up BEFORE they’re even released, it’s even better! And we at Teen Librarian Toolbox are sharing our excitement with you! I have ARCs of TWO books that have been optioned to Hollywood, and you get your chance to win them before SCRIPTS are even made.

Are you ready?

SO, to win, mention in the COMMENTS your FAVORITE book based movie and WHY, along with a contact (email or twitter address). One winner will be randomly selected to receive BOTH ARCs. Giveaway ends Saturday, April 5 (International Tabletop Gaming Day, BTW).

I Have Never Been So Conflicted About a Book Ever (aka a book review of Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith)

Austin is a historian.  That is what he does, he writes the truth.  All of it.  The glorious, messy – and in Austin’s case, incredibly horny – truth of life in Ealing, Iowa.  And the end of the world.  Because that is what happens.  Six foot preying mantis like bugs – Unstoppable Soldiers – come and start devouring the planet.  It is like a gloriously absurd episode of one of those Elvira movies I used to watch as a kid.  Don’t pretend you didn’t watch them too.  In fact, I can picture the Mystery Science Theater voice over of this movie happening in my head.  To say that it is gloriously absurd really only captures the tip of the ice berg.

“I did not know what to do. Everything was a mess. I was in love with my two best friends, and I was making them both miserable at the same time. And there were big horny bugs up above us that were eating the whole planet.” – from The Grasshopper Jungle, which basically sums it up amazingly well

To say that Austin is a horny teenager is also an understatement.  This is a little bit about how Austin operates: The phone rang.  It made me horny.  Look there’s my girlfriend Shann and my best friend Robby dancing.  It made me horny.  Look there is a giant bug eating the homeless man on the pubic lice couch.  It made me horny.  Austin is seriously horny.  I think if you averaged it all out he must mention his balls, his penis, masturbating, being horny, or having sex at least once on every page.  I didn’t actually do the math, so don’t quote me on this.  Suffice it to say, the dude takes horny teenage boy to new levels.  It is both seriously uncomfortable to read sometimes, and yet it is also sometimes grotesquely accurate.  Here’s the thing, Austin is equally repelling and compelling.  And he hands down has a consistent and authentically developed voice. 

Hence the conflicted part.  I can tell you right now a long list of teenagers I have worked with in my years as a librarian who would love this book.  I can also tell you that parents everywhere will be having heart attacks about this book.  I don’t know that I would feel comfortable taking this book and handing it to a teenager and saying, “you should read this book.”  It’s a combination of cowardice and self-preservation.  I wouldn’t ban it, because I don’t do that, but I also wouldn’t be chucking it out like candy in the Christmas day parade for all to read.  It definitely has a specific audience – and a very mature one.

In the end, I don’t actually know if I loved the book or seriously loathed it.  I think Smith accomplished what he set out to do in spades and for the right audience, it will be the best thing since sliced bread.  Others will scratch their head and go, “What the hell was that.”  Or, to quote an often used phrase in the book, “Holy Shit.” 

So here’s what totally worked . . .

Throughout the book, Austin tells you little bits and pieces of history.  In the end, the pieces all are woven together in a way that demonstrate how it all was leading up to this cataclysmic event.  At first it seems distracting, but then it all comes together.  It’s kind of genius.

Austin’s voice.  Austin is a very conflicted teen.  He doesn’t know how he feels about himself sexually.  In fact, he finds himself both attracted to his girl friend and his best friend, who is gay, and he doesn’t know what to think of all this.  To say that he is confused is an understatement.  Austin was a comeplling character, as is his sexual confusion, and I found him to be the reason I kept reading.  He kind of goes into a different voice when he was recording the history parts which works for the history, but his voice is very snarky and teenage boy.

Yes the plot is absurd, completely and unabashedly.  But it is also absurdly fun, especially if you happen to like a comedic look at a confused, horny teenager who suddenly finds himself trying to fight off giant preying mantis bugs that our devouring the human race.  I happen to like that sort of thing so it worked for me.

Here’s what I had some issues with . . .

I think it is going to be marketed as YA, but I almost feel like it is an adult book (especially in content) that takes a farcical look at the teenage years.  More Kurt Vonnegut and Catcher in the Rye than say Robert Cormier (who, by the way, actually appears a lot in this book in an interesting way).

Words I would use to describe this book: vulgar, absurd, grotesque, at times genius, repulsive, bawdy, completely over the top.  But oddly enough, I mean those all in complementary ways.  Again, if your goal is to write the most over the top look at a horny teenage boy on the verge of both the apocalypse and climax, this is your model.

Quotability rating: 3 out of 5.  I highlighted several quotes that spoke to me in some way.

“All good book are about everything. Abbreviated.” – Grasshopper Jungle

So, I both loved and loathed this book (at times the sex talk was way over the top and just too much for me, but it was, in fact, part of Austin’s voice and it wouldn’t have worked as well without it).  It is glorious in executing this story.  Or, as they say throughout the book, “Holy Shit.”  It is a 4 to 5 star book, for the right audience (and me).  I can not emphasize enough for those that are concerned about these things and need to know: If it was a movie, it would be rated R for the language and sex.

This review refers to an electronic ARC I downloaded off of Edelweiss.  Here is Publisher’s Weekly review.

Book Review: Winger by Andrew Smith

“Welcome to the eleventh grade, loser.” – page 61

If books could go through puberty, this is what you would get: funny, sarcastic, and heartbreaking all at once.  A little voice crack here, a little embarrassment there.  Ah, the glory of the teenage years. (Thank God I never have to live through them again.)

Bonus points for an awesome cover!
Simon & Schuster 2013 ISBN: 9781442444928

Ryan Dean West is a brilliant but insecure 14-year-old who finds himself a Junior at Pine Mountain boarding school (another example of this year’s trend of rich kids in YA lit). This year he has the dubious honor of being sent to “Opportunity Hall” for the crimes he committed the year before.  When we first meet Ryan Dean, nicknamed Winger for his position on the Rugby team, the self proclaimed loser is simply hoping that he survives the year with his new roommate.

“I said a silent prayer.
Actually, silent is probably the only type of prayer a guy should attempt when his head’s in a toilet.” – opening lines

Ryan Dean is in love with his best friend Annie, who claims she could never be in love with someone as young as him.  His relationship with his previous roommates is strained.  And he finds himself making new friends, one of which he can’t help but notice is gay, but he’s basically cool about it.  There are creepy teachers, nutsack injuries, embarrassing drunken moments, and all the stuff that makes the teenage years so insufferable.

“If I was a cat, I would have purred.
If I was an alligator, I would have been hypnotized.
But since I was only me, all I could do was lie there and contemplate everything perverted I had ever dreamed about since I was, like, seven years old.” – page 159

Throughout the book we see into Ryan Dean through little comics and drawings. I loved this little touch.  It gave the book personality, and reinforced Ryan Dean’s spunk.

So anyhow, you are reading along, laughing (tone, voice), cringing (dude makes some seriously bad decisions), wincing (diarrhea spells, groin injuries, boners) and then BAM – Smith sucker punches you in the gut when a terrible thing happens.  I am not kidding, I BAWLED LIKE A BABY.  Seriously.  I laid there in the fetal position crying, “Why, Andrew Smith, Why?”  And then I texted Christie and was all, “Have you read Winger yet? Go read it! Right now! And then text me!” (Let the record show she has not yet read it and texted me.)  Andrew Smith eats readers’ hearts for breakfast and washes it down with an elixir of their tears.

Ryan Dean is your fantastic yet typical teen, he is horny as all get out, uncomfortable in his own skin, and dancing the delicate dance between self proclaimed loser and guy coming into his own.  In short, he kind of rocks and you end up kind of loving him.  You either are this guy or know who this guy is, and he is secretly awesome and just doesn’t know it yet.

He is surrounded by a motley crew of other horny, rowdy teens, a less refined version of The Dead Poet’s Society if you will.  But each of them an important part of Ryan Dean’s journey, and interesting characters in their own rights.

This is a glorious book with a strong and realistic male point of view.  At times funny, in the end it will rip your heart out through your throat, but that is glorious too.  Not how it happens, that part totally sucks and has an all too painful realism to it, but in how successful Smith is in telling this story.  I read this book because A. S. King told me to on Twitter, and I didn’t think she would steer me wrong.  She didn’t.  Winger is a triumph of storytelling.  Booklist, Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly all give it a starred review.  I give it 5 stars as well.  Now I am going to go back and read The Marbury Lens, and I hang my head in shame that I haven’t read it yet (and yes, I know it is very different.) 

As a side note, I met Andrew Smith at TLA and he revealed that he wrote this book in part because he himself was an advanced student, 14 and a junior in high school.  So it can happen.

What happens at TLA stays at TLA. Well, until I write this blog post.

So, last weekend TLA happened. This was my second year attending TLA and it was incredible.  Here are 5 of my highlights and 5 of the titles I am looking forward to reading.


On Thursday, I had a couple of hours to kill and a bag full of stuffs, so I walked over to the parking garage to unload and figure out what my plan of action was. Suddenly, I got a cryptic text from my friend Stacy (from Girls in the Stacks): “Where are you?”  She then let me know that she was standing there talking to A. S. King (my hero).  So I texted her back, “I will be there in 5!”  I then proceeded to run down 9 flights of stairs, cross the street, and run through the exhibit hall to have the moment I have been waiting over a year to happen.  But there she stood – A. S. King.  I would like to say I totally kept my cool but the truth was, I was a dork.  She was very gracious about it.  And after she left, I broke down sobbing – although luckily it was in the Little, Brown booth.  Witnesses proclaimed that it was “cute”, but I think here they meant cute as a code word for “dorky”.  It does not matter because I MET A. S. KING.  Friends stood in line and got me a signed copy of her upcoming title (October) Reality Boy, which I have already finished reading.  That’s right, after being gone for 4 days I spent all day Saturday ignoring my children and not doing all the blog things I was supposed to do and read Reality Boy.  I am here to tell you that A. S. King has once again written an amazing, insightful book that I will gush about. This is also the story of how Stacy became my hero by making sure I got to meet A. S. King.

2. I Had Dinner with Mind Games author Kiersten White, Sweet Venom author Tera Lynn Childs, and Through Her Eyes author Jennifer Archer

Because of the superfab Naomi Bates at YA Books and More (we are going to start vlogging together about School/Public Library cooperation), I got invited to a Harper Collins dinner which involved a bunch of people from Harper Collins – and me apparently. I sat right next to Kiersten White (and this time managed not to cry thank you).  I really liked Mind Games and it was nice to get to talk to her about it. I also met Jennifer Archer, author of Through Her Eyes, and Tera Lynn Childs, author of Forgive My Fins and the Medusa Girls series. It was an amazing experience and I learned a lot about the publishing side of things.  We had a very interesting conversation about how there is a need for more books with MCs that are POC, but how they don’t tend to sell as well. It was enjoyable and informative. Also, yummy.

3.  A. S Howard reveals the cover to the sequel of Splintered, Unhinged.

Sometimes you have a moment of being in the right place at the right time.  That is what happened to me when I ended up being at the cover reveal of Unhinged, the sequel to Splintered.  I love the colors and the way the two covers work together.

4.  It’s Time for Tea in Texas

A special thanks to everyone who put together the Texas Tea, where I met a wide variety of my favorite authors and got to learn up their new or upcoming titles.  Pictures are Sharon Flake, who was a good sport and put on the mustache, John Corey Whaley, who is just adorable, Krissi Dallas, who always has a rockin’ presence, Tessa Gratton, who is very excited about her mythology inspired The Lost Sun coming out soon, and Lisa McMannon, who shared her inspiration for her book in the multi-author Infinity Ring series.  I also met Matt De La Pena who talked about growing up as a multi-racial young man and shared a short story he wrote for something called One Teen Story, a literary magazine for YA readers (which is new to me).

5. Writers are Readers!

Look, there’s Michael Buckely – author of the N.E.R.D.S series – reading Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson at TLA. It was so fun to run into authors who were gong to booths to try and get titles that they wanted to read.

And here are a few of the books that I heard about that I want to read

Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines: Described as “The Avengers meet The Walking Dead”.  This book is already out, but it is part of a 4 book series that hasn’t gotten enough publicity.  That tagline should make it easy to sell.

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis: About a girl living in a post-apocalyptic world who must defend what little water she has.  Dystopian and environmental, a winning combination.

Counting by 7s by Holly Golberg Sloan: I ran into award winning author John Corey Whaley and THIS is the book that he was going to get an ARC for.  He says it is fabulous and should be a strong contender for the Newberry.

Winger by Andrew Smith: First, this book has the best cover ever. Seriously. Everyone who has read it raves. And A. S. King is a fan.

Infinityglass by Myra McEntire: Speaking of best covers ever. Is this not amazing?  I am a HUGE fan of the Hourglass series by Myra McEntire (as are my teens) and I can’t wait for the next installment.  If you haven’t read it yet, check it out.

How about you? What were your fave TLA highlights?  What upcoming titles are you looking forward to?

And did I mention – I met A. S. King!!!!!!