Author: Carl Hiassen
Pub. Date: March, 2012
Summary: Wahoo Cray lives in a zoo. His father is an animal wrangler, so he’s grown up with all manner of gators, snakes, parrots, rats, monkeys, snappers, and more in his backyard. The critters he can handle. His father is the unpredictable one.
When his dad takes a job with a reality TV show called “Expedition Survival!”, Wahoo figures he’ll have to do a bit of wrangling himself—to keep his dad from killing Derek Badger, the show’s boneheaded star, before the shoot is over. But the job keeps getting more complicated. Derek Badger seems to actually believe his PR and insists on using wild animals for his stunts. And Wahoo’s acquired a shadow named Tuna—a girl who’s sporting a shiner courtesy of her old man and needs a place to hide out.
They’ve only been on location in the Everglades for a day before Derek gets bitten by a bat and goes missing in a storm. Search parties head out and promptly get lost themselves. And then Tuna’s dad shows up with a gun.
It’s anyone’s guess who will actually survive “Expedition Survival”. . .
Genre: YA/MG, Humor
Working in a bookstore has presented me with an ever-growing list of authors who I want to read. Carl Hiassen has been on that list for ages: the covers of his books immediately catch my eye and his quirky, oddball humor sounds like we’d be a perfect match.
When an ARC of Chomp arrived on my doorstep last week, I immediately tore into it. Wahoo Cray (yes, that’s his real name and he was named after the wrestler not the fish, thank you very much!) and his father Mickey have what amounts to a zoo in their backyard. Mickey is a professional animal wrangler and over the years has amassed a wide variety of wild animals: a pair of century-old tortoises, an extremely laid back alligator named Alice, a gigantic python named Beulah, and a bobcat with a limp to name a few.
The Crays have fallen on hard times. A dead iguana fell out of a tree and landed on Mickey’s head, giving him a serious concussion and double-vision. Many of his jobs were taken by rival wranglers. Wahoo’s mother winds up heading off to China for a teaching job to help pay the mortgage.
One day they get a phone call from Expedition Survival!, a Man Vs. Wild-esque show, completely with an “Australian” host, Derek Badger. In reality, he was a folk dancer before an injury put him in the hospital. It was there that he was discovered and given a new identity (complete with matching accent). Despite what his program shows, Derek is a total phony: he rolls up to the location in a huge tourbus with a full staff – including chefs. It’s not unusual for him to stay overnight in hotels rather than actually camping outdoors.
Derek is a huge star with an ego to match. After shooting a few scenes on the Crays’ property, he decides he’s more than capable of dealing with truly wild animals, not just tame critters living in a cozy backyard. Ignoring Mickey’s protests (as well as the objections from his assistant, Raven), Derek announces he wants to shoot the Everglades episode in the Everglades and hires on the Crays as assistants.
While stopping for supplies at Walmart, Wahoo runs into one of his classmates, a girl named Tuna. Her father is an abusive drunk and Tuna has the black eye to prove it. She’s determined to run away and Wahoo brings her along with them.
Chomp definitely reads more like a Middle Grade book than a Young Adult novel. This wasn’t a bad thing, though! The writing was so engaging, before I knew it I was halfway through the book! I got the humor, but I feel it would be far more appreciated by a younger crowd. With all the reptiles taking centerstage, I can easily see boys being all over Chomp (though girls will absolutely love it as well!).
Scattered throughout the book are really interesting facts about the animals, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I love it when a book can be educational without making it blatantly obvious. Also, Tuna has a major obsession with learning the Latin names for plants, insects, and animals. Seeing her rattle off species was so much fun.
I wasn’t at all prepared for the abusive father subplot, but Chomp handled it in a way that, while still bringing attention to the issue, didn’t make it overly traumatic or upsetting.
Chomp is a funny, captivating novel guaranteed to be enjoyed by children and adults alike. The fast plot made it an extremely quick read and any book featuring a lazy alligator as a main character is automatically awesome.
“You’ve seen the program, of course,” Raven said.
“Sure,” said Wahoo. “It’s on Thursday nights.”
“And rerun every Sunday morning,” she said. “So you already know that we’re all about verisimilitude.”
Wahoo didn’t even pretend to understand what the word meant. His father just looked at him and shrugged.
It was impossible for Wahoo to know what was going on in Alice’s prehistoric brainpan as she rose to the surface of the pool. But, compared with all the epic disasters that her ancestors had endured, she probably wouldn’t have viewed a flabby, fake Australian as a serious threat. On the other hand, she had never before encountered a human so foolhardy.
Whether Alice failed to see Derek Badger because he was in the lily pads, or whether he purposely positioned himself to intercept her, the result was the same. Somehow he wound up straddling her back, like a tipsy cowboy on a bronco.
Derek had been doing a cave-camping scene in New Mexico when he’d brainlessly decided to use an ancient Navajo prayer pipe to scratch an itch on his back. The sacred relic had snapped into three pieces, greatly upsetting the tribal leaders. Derek had been ordered to depart the reservation and never return.