Mega-bestselling author Carl Hiaasen might write formulaic young adult titles, but he’s just so goofball funny, it’s hard to put his books down – not to mention the covers are so irresistible, too. Following the massive success of his YA debut Hoot (which also got the royal Hollywood treatment) about overzealous construction and owls, Hiaasen moved to raw sewage pollution and fishies in Flush. In Scat and Chomp, he gleefully brandishes his secrets of success – an environmental theme set in Florida, good kids in tough situations, rogue (and/or missing) parents, and some of the most inept experts you’ll ever encounter between the pages (or stuck in your ears). By the way, if you decide on iPod-ing either or both, you’ve got some ‘famous’ choices depending on your age … Ed Asner for Scat, James Van Der Beek for Chomp.
In Scat, Nick and Marta aren’t exactly the biggest fans of their biology teacher Bunny Starch, but when she goes missing during a field trip cut short by a sudden fire, the two classmates are willing to risk their safety (and maybe their sanity) to get some answers. Meanwhile, a greedy heir and his aging sidekick from Texas, have insidious plans to drill for oil in protected swamp lands, home to the endangered Florida panther. In the midst of this fast-paced adventure, Nick’s elaborate plans to become a lefty like his soldier-father who returns armless from Iraq, is one of the more worthier tissue-demanding episodes in a many a novel for any audience.
Consciously or not, through his rollicking latest, Chomp, Hiaasen seems to enjoy taking a few jabs at the deadbeat mother in Scat who deserts her husband and son to open a Parisian cheese shop – Chomp‘s fromage isn’t particularly kind to reality stars! Back in the Everglades, Wahoo Cray’s family’s financial straits send his mother to Shanghai to teach Mandarin to ex-pat executives, while he and his wild-animal wrangler father, Mickey, reluctantly agree to work on the next episode of the popular reality show, Expedition Survival! Before they even get on location, father and son unexpectedly pick up one of Wahoo’s classmates – named Tuna! yes, only Hiaasen can make this stuff up! – who clearly needs to escape her violent father. The show’s biggest goal at first seems to be keeping the dimwit star (fake name, fake accent, fake credentials) from becoming a wildlife casualty, although protecting the wildlife from the pampered personality might prove to be the greater challenge. That is, until Tuna’s drunk father shows up claiming his “flesh and blood” … real life survival indeed!
As I wait impatiently for Hiaasen’s next young adventure, I’m chuckling and guffawing through some of his adult titles: brave kids, wacky adults, blind greed, eco-saviors abound … albeit without the PG-rating. First rule of bestsellers proves true: don’t fix what ain’t broke!
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult
Published: 2009, 2012