Written by: Andrew Smith
Publication Info: February 2014, Dutton Juvenile
One Line: 15-year-old Austin and his best friend Robby accidentally trigger the end of the world as we know it through an army of giant man-eating praying mantises.
Brief Summary: Sexually confused 15-year-old Austin spends his days in the dying town of Ealing, Iowa skateboarding with his gay best friend Robby Brees and hanging out with his girlfriend Shann Collins. He also loves to write, and loves to write histories more than anything else: this is his history, his recording of the events that occurred after he and Robby Brees took a beating from the town bullies for being “gay” (which Austin doesn’t really think he is). After their shoes are thrown on the roof of the mall, Austin and Robby hatch a plan to go up there and get them back in the middle of the night. For reasons unknown to
Thoughts: This is a very unique book, and it is intense, thought-provoking, and humorous at the same time. Dealing with themes such as sexual identity, the role of religion in society, bullying, family history and secrets, bioengineering, teen pregnancy, war, and the possible end of the human race, it’s told from the perspective of a 15-year-old boy who can’t seem to stop thinking about sex. The structure itself is intriguing: Austin tells his story through a series of short chapters, in which he goes backwards and forwards in time, covering everything from his family’s arrival in the United States to his older brother’s current situation fighting in Afghanistan, along with the history of many of the townsfolk in Ealing, Iowa. Although this structure can at times be repetitive and sometimes seems to slow the forward motion of the story, it also really enhances the quirkiness of Austin’s character, as he writes about the things that are important to him and he thinks will be important in the history of the world. Smith also weaves in the theme that everything is connected and all actions have consequences, and it is important to note that in this story, bullying quite literally brings about the end of the world, albeit through a series of odd events. Even though Austin is obsessed with sex and his own genitalia, which is probably typical for a 15-year-old male, Smith writes sensitively about his characters coming-of-age in a very conservative and religious town. This is a book that is hard to spoil and must be read to be believed, because it is ultimately jaw-droppingly insane and a highly entertaining read.
Author Information: From the author’s website, www.authorandrewsmith.com: “Andrew Smith is the award-winning author of several Young Adult novels, including the critically acclaimed Winger (Starred reviews inPublishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, and Shelf Awareness—an Amazon “Best of the Year,” and an ALA Top 10 for 2014) and The Marbury Lens(A YALSA BFYA, and Starred reviews and Best of the Year in bothPublishers Weekly and Booklist). He is a native-born Californian who spent most of his formative years traveling the world. His university studies focused on Political Science, Journalism, and Literature. He has published numerous short stories and articles. Grasshopper Jungle, a starred novel by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Shelf Awareness, is his seventh novel. He lives in Southern California.”