Grasshopper Jungle VS 100 Sideways Miles, a Comparison of Equals? Or, What Happens When You Read Two Very Different Books By the Same Author in Close Succession
Complete time start to finish: 8 weeks
Where I got my copy: Public library
Why it drew my interest: Initially, I was intrigued by Karen’s extremely visceral reaction to the book (read more here.) Then, I started to hear the buzz – and see the stars. Although it’s clearly not a middle school title, I was intrigued.
Book/Author it most reminded me of: Going Bovine by Libba Bray
Complete time start to finish: Less than 48 hours
Where I got my copy: E-ARC from Edelweiss
Why it drew my interest: I had literally just finished Grasshopper Jungle the previous week. And I had heard ZERO about this one.
Book/Author it most reminded me of: I’m still pondering it, but my initial response is A.S. King.
In both books, the featured relationship is between the narrator/protagonist and his best male friend. In fact, these fully realized friendships are probably my favorite part of these books.
Each protagonist has a less than fully realized relationship with his girlfriend, although that may be intentional on the part of the author. I’m not an expert in teenage relationships, but it is completely conceivable that an average teenage boy might not be equipped to form and highly developed and complex romantic relationship. In both cases, however, the female love interest characters are less developed as individuals as well, especially for characters that play such integral roles in the story. Julia, from 100 Sideways Miles is a more complex character, but neither are detailed.
Family is important to both protagonists, and yet absent for a large portion of the book. There is the requisite amount of lack of understanding/respect for authority while having a surprising depth of character detail for many in those positions. Smith is able to communicate the complexities of adulthood as seen through the highly observant eyes of his protagonists.
WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!
While both books deal with the everyday life of an average teen – Grasshopper Jungle quickly veers into the realm of science fiction. The back story of a town built by an insane genius who was bent on creating the perfect, unstoppable soldier and instead ended up creating man-sized praying mantises who eventually take over the world is both fascinating and deeply disturbing. As told by Austin Szerba, a boy whose life goal is to extensively journal every event of any significance, we see how his family history is intricately entwined with the coming apocalypse. Despite all of this plot, the book is more about Austin’s confusion over and exploration of his own sexuality than anything else.
100 Sideways Miles‘ connection to science fiction, however, stays firmly grounded in reality. Finn Easton has epilepsy, a direct result of a bizarre accident involving a dead horse falling off a bridge, which resulted in the death of his mother. Nursed back to health by the woman who would become his step mother, Finn’s experience is chronicalled in one of his father’s science fiction novels in a somewhat twisted manner. This novel, for better or worse, is extremely popular. Finn must deal with the fallout fro it on a regular basis. Although Finn is not writer, his description of his seizures is almost lyrical in quality. He also displays his own quirk by his insistence on measuring time passed in increments of ‘sideways miles’ relative to how far the planet has traveled in space during that time. His major struggle is breaking free from the overprotective love of his family. Which he does in rather spectacular fashion in a scene that had my heart racing.
What I came away with
I loved both books, even though they are very different. I think I struggled along so slowly with Grasshopper Jungle both because it is so extremely involved and because it is, essentially, not my kind of book. I do love multifaceted, intricate detail that slowly weaves together into an amazing tapestry of story, though. In the end, I can see why it was so highly praised by critics and readers.
On the other hand, 100 Sideways Miles is exactly my kind of story – with a protagonist to whom I can strongly relate. I doubt it will get the kind of critical acclaim enjoyed by Grasshopper Jungle because it is not nearly as flashy, explosive, or controversial in nature. In the end, however, it is my favorite of the two.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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