Saturday, April 14, 2012
In Chomp, his latest YA novel, Hiaasen introduces us to teenage lead character Wahoo Cray, and his father Mickey, who is an animal wrangler—animals such as snakes, alligators, and monkeys. Wahoo’s family is struggling financially, and his mother takes a temp job in China to help pay the bills. When a well-paying TV job pops up, Mickey’s father reluctantly accepts. Reluctantly, because the job is working on the popular reality TV show Expedition Survival!, which includes not just handling animals, but also handling the show’s pompous star Derek Badger.
Hiassen’s wacky humor gets put to good use skewing both reality television and the pampered stars who begin to believe their own hype. Badger gets it in his head that he wants to shoot the next episode in the Florida Everglades, and use actual wild animals, not the tame ones owned and wrangled by Mickey Cray. Problem is, Badger only plays a survivalist on television—he can’t actually, you know, survive in the wild. And that’s the situation he finds himself in when a storm hits during filming, not to mention that the wild animals are actually acting wild and chomping on Badger seemingly at will. When Badger runs off in the middle of the night in a fevered delusion of turning into a vampire (Hiaasen gets to poke fun at the teen vampire craze here), it sets off a man hunt that eventually involves the local police.
There is a side plot that involves a female friend of Wahoo’s (named Tuna) who runs away to the Everglades with the Crays to get away from her drunk, abusive father. When her gun-toting father comes looking for her, it throws a monkey wrench into the search for the missing Badger.
Wahoo and his father are both very likable characters that the reader can root for. Frankly I’d like to see more of the father in future novels; along with Wahoo’s friend Tuna, it makes for the start of what can be a series, if Hiaasen choses to go that route. Wahoo’s mother is sort of missing in action here, however. We get a few phone calls from her, and we know she is close to and loves her son and husband, but she isn’t much of a factor. I wondered why she was in the novel, except to possibly set up the storyline for sequels. (It couldn’t have just been to make the point that American jobs are moving overseas, could it?)
All in all, Chomp is a fun, fast read that I enjoyed. I’ve had my eye on Hiaasen’s other YA books, but never got around to them. Now I will.