Austin is a 16-year-old, sex-obsessed boy living in Nowhere, Iowa. He is confused and lonely (even though he has a best friend and a girlfriend) and angsty and more than a little self-absorbed. You would think this is any run-of-the-mill YA angsty novel. However, Andrew Smith sticks our modern-day Holden Caulfield in a Stephen King-esque setting: a strain of mutant bacteria gets out that mutates people into 6-foot-tall praying-mantis super-soldiers whose sole purpose in life is to eat everything, including each other, and to procreate.
With all the advance buzz it received, I think I expected something mind-blowingly amazing. But in reality all it is is the story of a sex-obsessed, selfish, confused 16-year-old boy. And as a mother of daughters, I can only live in the mind of that kind of character for a limited amount of time. So there’s that strike against it.
But other elements bothered me as well. Austin retells his personal and family history in a frustratingly circular way. He constantly repeats people’s full names (yes, I know Shann’s name is Shann Collins and her stepfather is Johnny McKeon; how many times do I need to be told?). The pace is generally uneven; it’d be interesting for a while and then Smith would go off on a tangent about metal urinals that really didn’t fit with everything else.
To be fair, there are some good elements: actual sentences that made me laugh aloud; or the fact that Austin’s (and his gay best friend Robby’s, for that matter) sexuality was just a thing, and not an “issue”; or just the fact of 6-foot-tall unstoppable praying mantises.
But it wasn’t enough for me to like this one.
Rated: High, for language (including many f-bombs), teenage smoking and drinking, pot use by adults, and clinical sex by 6-foot-tall praying mantises (and teenagers).