Guest Post by Briana Garza
It figures that these two novels were assigned to me. They are both made of my nightmares.
Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle is a gritty, apocalyptic young-adult novel about a teen named Austin whose town succumbs to a grotesque and horrifying disease that causes giant praying mantis-like creatures to:
a.) burst forth from human bodies,
b.) eat those human bodies,
c.) eat more human bodies,
d.) and mate with other giant praying mantis-like creatures.
Austin’s narration of his story is fascinating for several reasons. Firstly, he interweaves his Polish ancestry into current events, thereby revealing astonishing synchronicities that are the absolute cause of his town’s infestation. Secondly, Austin’s attitude toward what is happening around him is startlingly obtuse! Granted, he is a teenager who is struggling with his sexuality and the fact that his brother has been injured beyond repair overseas. However, Austin’s hormones overtake him and cause him to make confusing decisions (hey, it happens to the best of us) during what turns out to be the end of man. He and his best friend, Robby, seem to continuously stumble upon solutions by sheer dumb luck instead of analyzing situations and surviving the ‘proper heroic way.’
There are also many definitive statements that Austin repetitively proclaims as an aside to the reader, like:
“That is the truth.”
“It was not a good idea.”
“You know what I mean.”
At first it is exciting and creates suspense. Then it gets kind of old.
I’m that guy, the person who rambles on and on about how the zombie apocalypse could truly happen in one form or another, and I’m convinced that it will be humankind’s downfall. Just one weird strain of some disease that has been tampered with by our own unsuspecting scientists, that’s all it will take, people! Of course, giant praying mantises are a bit of a stretch, even by my paranoid standards.
Room is such a different book. Whereas Grasshopper Jungle is all about surviving with the terror outside, Room is about having to survive confined in a soundproof 11x11 ft. cell for years.
It’s told from the perspective of Jack, a five-year-old who has never known anything other than the shabby furniture and clothes that reside in Room. Room was initially only meant as a prison for Ma, Jack’s unnamed mother who was abducted and robbed of her early 20’s by a man they call ‘Old Nick.’
I couldn’t put this book down. Jack’s vocabulary is only the slightest bit stunted considering he has never spent time with anyone besides his mother, and it makes for a charming and tear-jerking read. He doesn’t understand the concept of “outside,” and cannot fathom a world so large that it holds millions of rooms, but his comprehension of the malevolent force that controls he and his mother is eerily acute.
The way that Jack and his Ma spend their days in Room demonstrates survival of the body and mind. Ma has created physical activities to keep them as fit as possible, and she makes Jack brush his teeth after every meal. They bathe regularly, they read and create stories together, and they even participate in crafting with the limited material available to them. Ma, who bravely exhausted all of her escape attempts and became a silent and passive captive, has had to change her strategy since Jack was born. She humors Old Nick when he comes to visit late at night in order to acquire necessary nourishment for her son. Ma buries her pride in order to keep Jack alive and well. It’s love at its strongest.
When I was in college, I participated in a psychological study for extra credit. A heart monitor was strapped to my chest and I was given an initial questionnaire to complete. After being shut inside a tiny cabinet and a STRAIGHT-UP COFFIN for several minutes, it was determined that I was, indeed, certifiably claustrophobic, and was thereafter instructed to show up a couple of times a week for a month to participate in exposure therapy. (Which means they shut me in that coffin over and over and over again until I was “desensitized,” A.K.A. pretending to be okay with it.)
That being said, the thought of being locked in a room for 7 years of my life scares me like no other, maybe even zombies. Maybe even giant praying mantis zombies.
While Grasshopper Jungle was clever in that it was multi-faceted and full of gruesome/awesome guts and gore, Room grabbed me more, for it was about not only the survival of two prisoners when they were locked up, but their courageous survival in the harsh reality of the world after their (SPOILER) escape.