Kitschie Award Winner
There is something wrong with the world, and it’s not Contained MI Plague Strain 412E.
The instant I picked up Grasshopper Jungle, I had to share with my Facebook friends the back cover copy:
“In the small town of Ealing, Iowa, Austin and his best friend Robby have accidentally unleashed an unstoppable army. An army of horny, hungry, six-foot-tall praying mantises that only want two things.”
Hilarious speculation ensued, “Um, hopefully, they just want tea and polite conversation.”
During this conversation, I got a private message from a friend. He didn’t want to bring down the plague of locusts that was sure to follow if he mentioned this directly on my feed, but he needed to warn me. In the Internet version of hushed tones that private messages imply, he whispered a command: “Google Andrew Smith plus Women.”
Dutifully and with no small amount of trepidation, I did. The internet offered me a number of articles with names like: Women Aren’t Aliens (and Other Thoughts on the Andrew Smith Controversy)1 and “Completely Ignorant of All Things Women”: On Andrew Smith and the Othering of Our Gender.2
All of which, stemmed from this question, asked in an interview on Vice:3
On the flip side, it sometimes seems like there isn’t much of a way into your books for female readers. Where are all the women in your work?
To which Smith says, discussing his most recent release The Alex Crow:
“I was raised in a family with four boys, and I absolutely did not know anything about girls at all. I have a daughter now; she’s 17. When she was born, that was the first girl I ever had in my life. I consider myself completely ignorant to all things woman and female. I’m trying to be better though.
“A lot of The Alex Crow is really about the failure of male societies. In all of the story threads, there are examples of male-dominated societies that make critical errors, whether it’s the army that Ariel falls in with at the beginning, or the refugee camp, or Camp Merrie-Seymour for boys, or the doomed arctic expedition, they’re all examples of male societies that think that they’re doing some kind of noble mission, and they’re failing miserably.”
And, thus the Internet dropped on Smith’s head.
I don’t get it. I’ve read Grasshopper Jungle now and I still don’t get it. I don’t even understand why this question got asked in the first place. Last I checked, I have all the requisite traits to be female and yet this book speaks to me about being a teenager in a small town in the 1970s in a way that no other book in the history of ever has. This was my experience to a tee, you know – minus the plague-y parts, but up to and including the fraught, confused kissing of the same-gender best friend. So yeah, this book also speaks very specifically to my own coming out – right down to the depressing, under-populated gay bar I thought was a mirror to my own bleak future. (I should say, Grasshopper Jungle takes place in the now, but there’s something about the profound lack of social media in this book that makes it feel anachronistic.)
So WTH? Why all the hate?
I woke up at five o’clock in the morning with an epiphany: this book is the male version of The Girl in the Road, with which it shares a Kitschie award nomination. The sensuality of Grasshopper Jungle is all semen and dicks and upper lip stubble and the weight of history and confused sexuality (so much sexuality!) and awkward white male desires to have bigger balls, smoke cigarettes, be a man…and fight giant bugs.
Just as there are men uncomfortable with the female mind and body when forced to read about it, there are females uncomfortable reading about the male mind and body. This must be why the interviewer suggested there wasn’t much in Smith’s books for women. Well, I call bullshit. You know what’s here for a woman? A hell of story, told, IMHO, in the same way as The Girl in the Road, which is to say with all the sensuality and honesty and rawness that is sometimes associated with the feminine and the female.
Plus, we ask straight, white men to step up and push outside of their comfort zones all the time. Woman-up, sister, and do the same. Go and read this amazing book. Feel the dick (and stop being one).