In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Carl Hiaasen fan. I enjoy the weird humor, bizarre characters, edgy plots and the seething outrage against the despoliation of the Florida environment that underlies so many of his adult novels. Chomp is his fourth young adult novel, and it shares with its brethren many of the virtues of Hiaasen’s adult novels.
As in his other three YA novels (Hoot, Flush, and Scat), the protagonist is a boy in his early teens, attending school and coping with a loving but unconventional family. In this case, Wahoo (yes, he was named after a fish) has a father who is a professional animal wrangler, and who has been having problems ever since he was hit on the head by a falling frozen iguana. When a big-time reality TV survivalist named Derek Badger comes to hire Wahoo’s father to work on an episode set in the Everglades, the fun begins.
Wahoo acquires a (girl) friend named Tuna whose father is abusive, Derek Badger gets chomped by a gator, a turtle, and assorted other creatures, the TV crew gets marooned in the swamp, and bad weather moves in. Derek Badger becomes convinced he is turning into a vampire, Tuna’s father shows up with a hand gun, and it is up to Wahoo and Tuna to save Derek, Wahoo’s father, and the television show (Wahoo’s family really needs the income).
The writing is fast-paced and entertaining. Humor and genuine suspense are artfully blended throughout the book. Hiaasen gives his young protagonists plenty of grit and know-how, and provides the reader with a greater appreciation and understanding of the Everglades and its wildlife in a very non-textbook manner. As with Hiaasen’s other YA books, Chomp is likely to appeal to reluctant readers on the strength of the young male protagonist, the humor, and the bizarre and occasionally slightly grisly events that occur. Eager readers will enjoy the books at least as much.
—Steve Mudd, author
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