Somehow I believed I liked Carl Hiaasen's work before I'd even read a word of his writing. Why? Because of the covers.
Those are seriously cute. Especially Hoot, which sort of started the Hiaasen as YA writer thing. His latest, Chomp, launches tomorrow, and it follows in the visual footsteps of its cousins:
I love the continuity here. These are NOT a series, but they would make a nice set on the shelf, and the good news is they're not just good cover design. Or at least Chomp isn't. I haven't read the others, but Hoot was a Newbery Honor book, so it is on my list to get to at some point in the future.
Chomp is about a boy (unfortunately named Wahoo) and his dad. The dad is a professional animal wrangler who often provides and handles snakes or gators or other "wild" animals used in television programs or events. Unfortunately, the dad has a major concussion (frozen iguana falls out of tree) that has left him seeing double and unable to work. Money gets tight, mom goes to China to teach English, and Wahoo is left to hold the house together. Despite his dad's injury, he urges his dad to sign a contract with a well-known reality program called Expedition: Survival that wants to shoot in the nearby Everglades. Before they leave, they take on a girl named Tuna who has run away from her abusive dad. There are more than a few crazy happenings (some might say ridiculous) to follow, but in the end, Hiaasen provides a mostly enjoyable, often funny, and sometimes thought-provoking read for young people.
At one point in the book, we are told that "Real reality had thwarted TV reality" (227). It is the skewering of fake survival reality shows that makes this book a worthy read. Though most adults may take for granted the staged nature of all reality programs, many kids have not yet reached the point of critical thinking to question what they are consuming. This book takes them "behind the scenes" and reveals the star, Derek Badger, to be a fraud. Though Badger's character is much, much too one-dimensional, the lesson is a good one for young readers. In fact, that last sentence could be applied to the whole book: too one-dimensional to be considered an instant classic or anything much beyond "fluff" but an entertaining story with some good points. I do hate when books for kids are condescending, but there are definitely times when simple is better. In this case, it works for the most part.
Where it doesn't work for me is the problem of Tuna and her father. He is the stereotypical violent drunk, who gave her the black eye that caused Wahoo and his dad to take her with them to the Everglades. I know there are kids who deal with violent fathers who drink, but I did not buy Hiaasen's description of this particular violent drunk. It was somehow too Disneyfied. And when drunk dad with a fist turns in to drunk dad with a gun, things get a bit too ridiculous. The plot just jumps the tracks a bit much for me in the second half or so.
So, not a great book but a good one. With unique voices, characters, and situations, I would not mind my kids discovering this one at the library, but I won't make a point to get it for the permanent collection.
**I read this ARC through NetGalley - thanks, Lu! - which made the layout funky. I did not prefer it, but I didn't hate it either, so I'll probably keep giving it a chance every now and then.**