Jukebooks: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew SmithAndrew Smith’s latest book, Grasshopper Jungle, is a mad romp through time, lead by sixteen year-old historian Austin Szerba. Set in Austin’s dying Iowa town, the story includes Austin’s Polish ancestors, a decrepit alley behind an empty mall, a very mad scientist, and six-foot tall praying mantis-like creatures. The action is framed by Austin’s present day dilemma:  He loves both his best friend, Robby, and his other best friend, Shannon.

Smith uses many recurring phrases and themes in his story. One of them is Robby and Austin’s love for the 1972 Rolling Stones album, Exile on Main St.  As Austin writes:

Although it had been made more than forty years before, it seemed like every song on that Rolling Stones album was precisely about Robby and me, or Unstoppable Soldiers, Ealing, Iowa, and McKeon Industries.

Photo by Dominique TarleThe making of Exile on Main St. stretched over a four year period of time. Much of it was recorded in the basement rooms of a French villa known as Nellicote, leased by Keith Richards for a time. Musicians would drop by and play on tracks that were later used on the album, even as members of the Stones stayed away from the erratic, drug-fueled recording sessions. So the final product is complex, with some truly brilliant tracks.

As Robby and Austin cruise the ruined town of Ealing, Iowa, on the lookout for the deadly praying mantises, Robby puts on “Let It Bleed.”


-Diane Colson, currently reading The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely