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Bugs only want to do two things

"The best books are about everything."
Austin Szerba
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Grasshopper Jungle is a science fiction novel written by Andrew A. Smith in 2014. The story also includes several elements of a Coming of Age story, and focus a great deal on the inner turmoil of the teenage protagonist, Austin Szerba, his relationships with his friends and with his family and cultural heritage.

The story takes place mainly in the fictional city of Ealing, Iowa, a soon-to-be ghost city suffering from economic recession. There lives Austin, a self-proclaimed historian of Polish descent, and his best friend Robby Brees. They inadvertently become responsible for the unleashing of the Contained MI Plague Strain 412E — which, as the title suggests, develops into a serious case of Big Creepy-Crawlies called the Unstoppable Soldiers.


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Grasshopper Jungle contains examples of:

  • And Man Grew Proud: This seems to be the view of the main characters regarding the actions of McKeon Industries and their disregard for the possible consequences of creating an army of giant, bulletproof, fast-maturing, praying mantises.
  • Arc Words: Many, including the page quote, plus a few:
    • "And that was our day. You know what I mean."
    • "Bugs only want to do two things."
  • The Ark: The Eden project bunker contains the semen of a lot of important men of the time it was constructed, including Richard Nixon and Pope Paul VI, that is, before Grady McKeon flushed it away and substituted it with his own infertile sperm. Discussed by the protagonists after Austin brings his dog, Ingrid, into the bunker.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Insects breathe through holes in their exoskeleton that inject their tissues directly with oxygen. This only works well on a small scale; giant mantises would choke rather easily.
    • Blood and sperm seen to posses qualities that approach the mystical in the novel.
  • Babies Ever After: Austin and Shann's son, Arek, and Robby's new sister, Amelie, both born in the bunker before the epilogue.
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  • Big Bad: The Unstoppable Soldiers.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: The Unstoppable Soldiers, a race of giant praying mantis.
  • Biological Weapons Solve Everything: McKeon Industries' Contained MI Plague Strain 412E.
  • Bioluminescence Is Cool: The mold that contains the plague can glow in the dark.
  • Bi the Way: Austin Szerba. He is in love with both his girlfriend Shann Collins and his best friend Robby Brees. A major plot point is his inability to prioritize one or the other. Angst ensues for all of them. At the end of the book, Austin has come to terms with his sexuality and is together with both of them.
    • Considering that Austin only shows physical attraction to girls if Robby isn't counted, this may be a case of If It's You, It's Okay.
    • Discussed near the end of the book, when Robby says that there is a word for men like him. Austin assumes he is talking about bisexual and says he isn't sure if he identifies that way. Turns out the word Robby had in mind was actually selfish.
  • Bury Your Gays: Majorly subverted. Not only are the two main guys alive it turns out Robby is the only person in the world the Unstoppable Soldiers fear and that can kill them.
  • But Not Too Foreign: A major plot point is Austin's thoughts on his ancestors original polish names, with a lot of consonants, and the americanization those names suffered when his family came to the US.
    • In the end of the novel Austin decides to regain his family's original name as well as its Catholic traditions.
  • But Not Too Gay: Austin's romantic interactions with Shann are explicit and common. His interactions with Robby are limited to a kiss and a few displays of physical affection.
  • Childhood Friend Romance
  • Closet Key: Robby is this for Austin. It really sparks after Robby convinces Austin to kiss him, so he, Robby, could at least know how it feels to kiss another guy.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: The protagonists fail to stop the Mantises from breeding, and North America (and possibly the world) is overrun by a new apex species of giant bugs.
  • Everybody Smokes: The Eden project is full of cigarettes since it was built in the 60-70's. Robby and Austin are also smokers.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The Unstoppable Soldiers are just as efficient at killing as their creators expected.
  • Hope Spot: The protagonists have finally found a way to kill the unstoppable soldiers and manage to take down three of the giant bugs, but the female's eggs have already begun to hatch.
  • Immune to Bullets: The bugs. The only thing that can sure kill them is Robby Bree's blood.
  • Incompatible Orientation; Subverted. It seems that Robby's feelings for Austin are this, but Austin eventually starts returning his feelings.
  • Lovable Sex Maniac: Austin always has sex on his mind, which gets him into awkward situations, but people still love him. He himself admits that:
    I wondered if I would ever not be horny, or confused about my horniness, or confused about why I got horny at stuff I wasn't supposed to get horny at.
    As history is my judge, probably not.
  • Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: Right there in the middle. The setting is pretty realistic, but the writer took some liberties with biology.
  • Only You Can Repopulate My Race: Played with. Austin is more than pleased with this aspect of the Eden project. This trope comes in full effect after Austin and Shann have sex, and the Unstoppable Soldiers' eggs hatch, with Shann eventually giving birth to Austin's son while they are living in the Eden bunker.
  • Polyamory: Austin likes both Shann and Robby. Shann hates it, while Robby is generally okay with Shann being Austin's girlfriend, even if he envies the attention Austin gives her. In the end of the book, he's in a relationship with both of them, and while Shann still dislikes this and Robby wants to live with Austin, they have a happy life.
  • Relationship Upgrade: Downplayed. Happens to Austin and Robby midway through the book, though it's a more subtle "I admit I like you too" one.
  • Somewhere, an Entomologist Is Crying: The giant bugs are described as being very fast and strong. In reality, their exoskeleton should have made them heavy and slow, and as noted above, the giant bugs shouldn't have been capable of surviving due to how their breathing mechanism works.
    • There's also the case of how these creatures could bring The End of the World as We Know It, since the American continent is essentially a giant island, and praying mantises are notoriously bad fliers and swimmers (they can infect humans to carry their eggs, but the events of the novel take place in a nearly deserted town), so this is likely a case of Unreliable Narrator.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Robby and Austin seem to think so.
  • Straight Gay: Robby Brees.
  • A Threesome Is Hot: Austin surely thinks so. He constantly fantasizes to have a threesome with Robby and Shann. On Sweden. It Makes Sense in Context
  • Triang Relations: 7. Austin likes Robby and Shann, and they both like him back.
  • Threesome Subtext: Both out and in-universe. Austin spends a good portion of the book thinking about a threesome between him, Shann and Robby, and tries to include as much of this in their conversations as possible. In one particular instance, Robby feels awkward after Shann kisses him, because he knows exactly what Austin is thinking. This goes Up to Eleven in the epilogue.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Played with. In the end Austin decides that he does not really need to choose, and that it's normal to be confused. So kinda yes and kinda no.
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