By: Carl Hiaasen
Rating: Three out of five bookmarks
Florida has served to be the backdrop for many of the most bizarre adventures in the realm of literary fiction, including two of my favorite: "Swamplandia!" by Karen Russell and Tim Dorsey's "Pineapple Grenade."
What is it about Florida and its exotic wildlife that lends itself to such kooky comedic plotlines?
There must be something about human nature that makes us want to find the humor in dangerous situations, like nearly being drowned by an alligator or bitten in the face by a bat.
In Carl Hiaasen's latest young adult novel, "Chomp," you can tell by the title itself that there will be plenty of hilarious human-maiming (no harm to the animals) in this exciting escapade into the Everglades.
"Chomp," like Hiaasen's popular novel "Hoot," is an animal-themed story, even bestowing animal names on most of its human characters.
Wahoo Cray is a young boy whose father, Mickey, is an animal wrangler living in a veritable zoo of snakes, lizards, monkeys, rodents and Alice, their gentle giant of an alligator.
Unfortunately, the Crays are in deep debt and in danger of losing everything. So when the producer for the reality TV series "Expedition Survival," offers them a hefty payment to use Alice in an episode, the Crays leap at the chance.
Mickey, however, is better working with animals than people, especially in the case of the show's spoiled and egocentric host, Derek Badger.
Tensions run high between the bumbling celebrity and the outspoken wrangler, but suddenly Derek goes missing while the crew is shooting in the depths of the Everglades.
On top of that, Wahoo takes in a school friend named Tuna who has run away from her drunken, abusive father, and now the father is after them with a beer and gun in tow.
Who will turn out to be the true survivalist in this unexpected expedition?
This novel does not have any environmentalist messages like "Hoot," nor does it appear to be making any positive or negative commentary about reality TV (even though the reader sees how "reality" TV is not as spontaneous as viewers would like to believe).
"Chomp" is basically just a fun jaunt through a series of unusual predicaments, from one character receiving a concussion from a frozen iguana falling on his head, to another character getting tossed through the air on the tusks of a wild boar.
Due to the frequent slapstick-style mayhem that ensues, it is a little difficult to transition to the more serious, darker moments in the plot.
The drunken gunman is supposed to be a threatening presence, having no inhibitions in shooting anyone who gets in his way or brutally beating his daughter, which felt extremely out of place with all the cartoonish incidents happening at the same time.
There is not a great amount of character development, and everyone falls into a typical niche role: Wahoo is the voice of reason who is usually more mature than his father; Mickey is the wise-cracking tough guy who never thinks before he talks; Derek is your standard celebrity jerk who throws tantrums when he doesn't get his way; Tuna is the spunky yet smart girl who naturally goes for a guy like Wahoo while no other girl in their class does.
But it is the combination of putting these characters together in a wild, unpredictable locale that makes the novel work. Ultimately, it is how they all react to each other and the situations they put themselves in that make the book fun.
"Chomp" is a briskly paced read with amusing dialogue and some clever moments, even if there is some imbalance in tone. It will be released in stores March 27, so if you're looking for a quick, enjoyable read, this book will appease any young reader's appetite.
Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? Email her to tell her about it. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life