fiction favorites…Chomp

chomp cover imageChomp, by Carl Hiaasen

Wahoo slipped outside to clean Alice’s pond. Alice the alligator was one of Mickey Cray’s stars. She was twelve feet long and tame as a guppy, but she looked truly ferocious. Over the years Alice had appeared often in  front of a camera. Her credits included nine feature films, two National Geographic documentaries, a three-part Disney special about the Everglades and a TV commercial for a fancy French skin lotion.
“They say he wants Alice,” said Wahoo, “and a major python.”
They were talking about their famous new client, Derek Badger. He was the star of Expedition Survival! , one of the most popular shows on cable. Every week, Derek would parachute into some gnarly wilderness teeming with fierce animals, foolish behavior from nbcvenemous snakes and disease-carrying insects…Wahoo and his dad had watched Expedition Survival! often enough to know that most of the wildlife scenes were faked.
“Derek’s never done a show in the Everglades,” Wahoo said to his father.
“They say he’s a humongous pain in the butt, this guy.”
“Just be nice, Pop. It’s a lot of money.”
Mickey promised to behave.

Wahoo Cray’s father, Mickey, is a wildlife wrangler who earns a living by tending to a hodgepodge of exotic creatures only too happy to bite somebody, given the opportunity.  Film crews pay him for the use of some creatures.  The government hires him to deal with infestations of foreign snakes and iguanas, released by pet owners and causing havoc to the ecosystem. Wahoo is his right-hand man.

mastiff batWhen Derek Badger, the swaggering, incompetent, reality-TV star, hires the Crays and several of their animals for his show, it’s all Wahoo can do to coax civil behavior from his father toward a fellow who is a true nincompoop.  Things go from bad to worse, however, when Derek demands a segment be filmed in the wilds of the Everglades — not using the Cray’s movie-set  swamps or tamed animals.

In fact, once on location in the Everglades maze, everything that could go wrong, does, including Derek’s encounter with an enraged bat, Derek’s disappearing act, a wicked storm, and the arrival of the alcoholic, abusive, and armed father of Wahoo’s new friend, Tuna.  Airboat chases, gun battles, paranoid film stars…for Mickey and Wahoo, handling pythons is a piece of cake compared to this mess.

This is Carl Hiaasen’s fourth eco-adventure for middle-grade readers, and like his others it’s packed with suspenseairboat tour, action, good guys and bad guys, feisty early-teen characters, and over-the-top humor. There’s about as much reality here as in Derek Badger’s Expedition Survival! TV show, but it doesn’t matter.  The exaggerated, oddball characters, out-of-control mayhem, and exotic location make an exciting, funny read that even reluctant readers will enjoy.

The inclusion of Tuna, a young girl with a physically abusive father and a mother who does not protect her, weaves a dark strain into this otherwise comic story. Hiaasen does not treat this subject humorously.  Tuna’s father is the true villain of the story, rather than the bumbling Derek Badger, while the manly-men, Mickey and Wahoo, deplore his conduct and lay their lives on the line to protect her.

Great read for those who don’t mind (or relish) a few gross images and some blood — especially well-suited to boys ages 11 and up.

Here’s the Amazon link:  Chomp