Reading Recap: Weird Books and the Difference Between Award Winners and Almost Winners

Yes, I still have a backlog of reviews from my summer class. I read these two books back to back. Grasshopper Jungle I had read when it first came out, and had a lot of mixed feelings about it. It was good to step back and take a second look at it. I’m a big fan of A.S. King, but this was the first time I read Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future.

These authors are good friends, and their books are both often weird and surreal. While critically acclaimed, these books didn’t win the 2015 Printz award. So what makes them almost, but not quite, award winners? Are they too weird?

I also wouldn’t recommend them to just any teen reader, but they are perfect for the right reader.

Grasshopper Jungle

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
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I was horny, and scared, and so confused about everything.”

That quote pretty much sums up this book—and the teenage experience. I think that’s the strength of this book. Austin is struggling as much his personal issues as with the problems of giant bugs, and the frank discussion of sexuality and basic bodily functions will I’m sure resonate with a certain segment of teenage boys.

But while reading, I couldn’t help but think about what the story would be liked from Shann’s point of view. She’s used as little for than a plot device and only appears in the story to serve as a complication in Austin’s sexual understanding and become impregnated. She’s not depicted as a fully formed character.

Now, I recognize that Grasshopper Jungle was creative, and that many of the elements I found distasteful—the constant reference to body parts and function, repetitive phrasing, and the lack of contractions—were stylistic choices. They just didn’t work for me as a reader. I’ve enjoyed Smith’s other books—particularly Winger and Stick—but I wasn’t the target audience for this book.

With the references to books and reading, Smith seemed to be thumbing his nose or making a private joke about how likely his book was to be challenged or criticized for its very descriptive sexual remarks and numerous curse words. I dislike such winks and nudges from authors to readers and feel like they detract from the story.

This is certainly not a book that will work for every reader, but I’m glad that I read it. It’s a good book to put in the hands of readers who are looking for “weird” or “gross” books or want a unique apocalpytic story.

Glory O'Brien's History of the FutureGlory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King
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My first impression was that this book was full of big ideas and I loved that. I thought Glory had great voice. I liked the focus on toxic and/or complicated female friendships (can we just get more of this in YA, already? male friendships too?). I thought the metaphors focusing on photography and art were well done. The Max Black conceit was especially clever. I do think the pacing was off in places, and that the beginning was slow and the the ending abrupt. The “message” was a bit heavy-handed in places, and as much as I loved the feminist threads (and especially the contradictions) I think some more nuance or a more well-developed sense of irony would have had more impact.

I’m not sure how much “believable” should play into a dystopian future, but I had a hard time buying the outlawing of women’s ability to work as a reaction to equal pay legislation. It seemed hyperbolic, which may have been the point; but authors like Vonnegut and Atwood have made me believe in the absurd in a way that this novel didn’t.

As a teen, this book would have had the potential to really connect with me. I was a budding feminist, an amateur photographer, had lost a parent, and had that same disdain that Glory had for others, and especially would have related to her interactions with Ellie—that sense of comfort from the routine of a friendship, but with a judgmental tone.

But, I’m not sure I would have gotten past the part where they drink the bat. Because that is just so weird, and I don’t know that there’s enough impetus for choice. It’s the whole catalyst in the beginning, but I had a hard time buying that two eighteen-year-old girls would have done that. I’m not sure I would have gotten past that point. I can see where some teens would totally be into how “weird” the book is, but how that could also turn off some teen readers.

This is a novel I want to re-read when I have more time and am not in such a rush to finish it for class.

These novels are both ambitious, though-provoking, with great voice to the characters and full of big ideas.

Do you like “weird” books? What are some of your favorites? 

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2 thoughts on “Reading Recap: Weird Books and the Difference Between Award Winners and Almost Winners

  1. There’s also a fine line between quirky and weird that I have trouble with. I haven’t picked up either of these two books, but the ones that came to mind reading your thoughts were the Weetzie Bat books. I couldn’t get through 50 pages of the first one. Some people love them, but they’re just not for me.

    1. Yes, my sister LOVED Weetzie Bat when we were teens, but I could never get into it. These kind of books are always going to be more for niche audiences, but that’s what makes them cool.

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