Chomp is the second book by Carl Hiaasen I’ve read, the first being his 2003 Newbery honor book Hoot many, many years ago in my pre-blogging days. I had some vague memories of Hoot, and I have to say that Hiaasen‘s newest middle grade book is similar in tone and theme.
Chomp is the story of Wahoo Cray and his dad, wild animal wrangler Mickey Cray, and how they get mixed up in the production of a wildlife survivalist show. The Crays have a real love and appreciation for wildlife; in fact, they have a wildlife menagerie living in their back yard. Mickey Cray has worked on the set of many a wildlife show, but up until now he has drawn the line at appearing on a survivalist show, mostly because he knows they’re fake. However, the Crays need the money, especially since Mickey suffered a concussion when an iguana fell out of a tree and clonked him on the head (I’m not kidding) which rendered him unable to work. Expedition Survival! sets up in their backyard, and the show’s star, Derek Badger, royally gets under Mickey’s skin, with his fake tan and his fake Australian accent and his couch potato physique. If Mickey thinks it, he says it, so it looks like their days on this Hollywood payroll are numbered. That is, until Derek Badger “wrestles” their huge alligator and gets some amazing video footage, by which he is convinced that he needs to take his show into the Everglades to make it “real.” Mickey and Wahoo then embark on an adventure in the wilds of Florida, but not before they rescue a classmate of Wahoo’s, a girl named Tuna (yes–Wahoo and Tuna) who lives in motor home in the Wal-Mart parking lot with her abusive, alcoholic father.
The story really picks up here, and it’s one mishap after another. The end of the story involves a manhunt and a certain actor who thinks he’s turning into a vampire. It’s actually quite entertaining and even funny in parts. However, as much as I like a good adventure/nature story, I found one thing about this story rather annoying: there are far too many editorializations about Florida wildlife, and these passages totally break up the flow of the story and seem very out of place in what is essentially a funny, exciting, and satirical story. It is akin to reading a middle grade novel with a nature magazine article cut apart and interspersed throughout the novel. The other thing is that the bit about Tuna seems a little out-of-place, too–we get to see Wahoo trying to help a girl who’s in dire straits, and while Wahoo is apparently a caring sort of fellow, it’s almost too much, too soon.
I’m no fan of so-called reality t.v., so I appreciate this satirical look at it. I think this book will appeal to middle grade readers, perhaps boys in particular, but it’s not as polished as some of the other 2012 Cybils middle grade finalists.