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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Carl Hiassen's YA Novel Gets Heads Up

Title: Chomp
Author: Carl Hiassen
Author's Web site link:
Genre: Young Adult Urban, 10 and up
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (March 27, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0375868429
ISBN-13: 978-0375868429
Reviewed by Jack B. Downs
The Story
Wahoo McCroy is your average bemused middle schooler, minus a thumb lost in a feeding accident to a family pet. Distracted as he offered Alice the alligator a whole chicken, he noticed too late that she’d mistaken his appendage for part of the meal. Such is life growing up in a reptile zoo.
Wahoo’s dad Mickey is also suffering the effects of an animal attack – of sorts. Seems he was beaned by a frozen iguana as it tumbled from its tree roost. Life running a reptile zoo creates challenges both logistical and financial. Running low on flow because of his extended recuperation, Mickey takes a contract with Expedition Survival, and uber-popular man-dropped –in-the-wild-to-pit-himself-against-nature story. Then the fun truly begins.
Derek, the star of the series, is a schizophrenic showman, who doesn’t hesitate to down roadkill for his audience, but uses stunt doubles for some of the dangerous stuff, and whose contract includes being airlifted out of the backcountry every night to a five-star resort. When he falls in love with the Everglades on location and decides to use all-wild animals, rather than the yawning reptiles in Mickey’s zoo, he drags along Mickey and Wahoo to assist. Wahoo brings along his friend Tuna, a girl suffering abuse at the hands of a drunken and deranged father.
The escapades that fill out the book as the drunken father chases his daughter and crew into the swamp, the star of the show is bitten by a bat and has a hallucinatory conversion, and Wahoo and Mickey first are the hunters, and then the hunters, lead to a surprising climax. Let’s just say the characters we thought we knew assume more….character.
Downs' Review
I Read it in two nights. That’s probably my equivalent of five stars. I should say I’ve been reading Carl Hiassen for years, ever since I stumbled across the unforgettable and provocatively titled “Skinny Dip.” This author always delivers, and I am reminded of a younger Tom Robbins, without the author intrusion, but with all the clever pacing and the quirky characters that seem to be goofy to be totally fictionalized. The young runaway, Tuna, for example, is predictably dodgy, suspicious, and proud. But she is also an expert at the Latin names for the dazzling flora abounding in the deep Everglades.
Derek the “survivalist,” who turns out to be anything but, is a contradiction in the book. He is in many spots a simpering, egotistical fool. When he leaps onto Alice though, for what turns out to be the ride of his life, he displays his reckless, extreme side. They are a little hard to reconcile for me.
This is the second novel for young readers of Hiassen’s I have read. To tell the truth, when I read “Flush,” another of his young adult novels, I’m not sure I even realized it was young adult. Hiassen’s clever characters and rapid-fire dialogue migrate well from such adult works of his as “Nature Girl” and “Strip Tease” to the high-action pacing of his YA works.
Hiassen also manages, in the manner of “Rivers of Grass,” the rallying cry to save the Everglades by Marjorie Douglas, to paint his action on a rich, Technicolor backdrop of a land he clearly loves and yearns to protect. Hiassen’s main characters are those very close to the bottom of the 99 percent, whose resilience, bravery, and inventiveness cause me to look more closely at what I think I know. In that sense, “Chomp,” like the rest of his writing, is subversive. The world I see is more clearly focused, and that’s not a bad consequence of a good read.

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