Book Review: Chomp

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

From Nancy Gilson, The Columbus Dispatch's children's book expert, comes this review of a new Carl Hiaasen novel!

Chomp (Knopf, 290 pages, $16.99, age 10 and older) by Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiaasen can blend outrageous characters, action-packed plots, humor and a passion for the environment in novels that grab hold of youngsters as well as adults.

His new novel for young readers, Chomp, follows in the wake of Hoot, Flush and Scat, his three previous, Florida-set adventures.

The anti-hero of this one is Derek Badger, a Steve Irwin-style star of the reality show Expedition Survival! Badger is a complete fraud and an even bigger fool.

His production team brings him to the southern Florida home of animal wrangler Mickey Cray and his son, Wahoo (named for the tuna). They preside over a haven for snakes, raccoons, turtles, monkeys and a big old alligator named Alice, who - inadvertently, the boy said - took off one of Wahoo's thumbs.

Badger is to star in an episode whose climax will be a tussle with Alice. The shoot goes so well that Badger demands that the next show be shot in the Everglades with truly wild creatures, and with Mickey and Wahoo along as experts. The father and son wouldn't put up with such nonsense, but they need the money - the mortgage is overdue.

Into sawgrass and swamp go the production team (Badger will be flown in by helicopter daily from his Miami hotel) and the Crays, as well as a school friend of Wahoo's, who is also named for a fish - Tuna. She's on the run from her drunken father, who hits her.

The theme of childhood abuse is handled seriously while Hiaasen's concerns for wildlife and the environment emerge almost subliminally in his wild plot. On location at the Cray home, Badger whispers the script as cameras roll: "Today I'm crawling through the most remote, untouched and dangerous stretch of the Everglades, following the trail of an enormous wild python - and look! There she is!"

But Beulah, the python, had been fed a couple of microwave chickens and really just wants to take a nap. Or, as Hiaasen writes of Badger's encounter: "It was like wrestling a 14-foot noodle."

Adventure ramps up in the Everglades with unscripted events: Badger tries to eat a live bat and is bitten in return, fleeing into the swamp. Tuna's gun-toting father takes Mickey hostage on an airboat and on the trail of his daughter who, with Wahoo, is tracking Badger. A storm erupts.

The voice of sanity in all this is Wahoo, a shy kid who navigates the action with common sense and humanity toward all, except nincompoop Badger, surely one of the funniest and thickest villains Hiaasen has yet created.

-Nancy Gilson