Hiaasen turns to fans of young-adult fiction
Incisive social commentary akin to Jonathan Swift’s, wrapped in a sly wit and capitalizing on the “only in Florida” goings-on have won Carl Hiaasen legions of fans. And his ability to write the kind of books that appeal to children won him a Newberry Award.
Now, Hiaasen smoothly transitions his writing to appeal to readers age 12 and up with “Skink — No Surrender,” his first young adult novel.
“Skink” rightly doesn’t have some of the very adult situations that Hiaasen loves to explore in his regular novels. But Hiaasen also doesn’t dumb down his plot for the YA set, keeping the story not only age-appropriate but also one that would hold adults’ interest. Hiaasen weaves in a cautionary tale about meeting strangers online, but doesn’t resort to preaching. The humor is the kind that young readers can relate to, and while there is some violence — this is Hiaasen, after all — it doesn’t go over the top.
As one can tell from the title, “Skink — No Surrender” brings back Clinton Tyree, Florida’s former governor who retreated from office — and civilization — to the Everglades, lost an eye, changed his name to Skink and now is an eco-warrior. Skink is Hiaasen’s only recurring character, having first appeared 25 years ago in “Double Whammy.”
This time, Skink isn’t playing eco-terrorist — though woe to that driver who littered. That man should be glad he wasn’t the guy who disturbed the turtle’s nest in front of Skink.
Skink wants to help teenager Richard Sloan find his 14-year-old cousin Malley Spence, who has run away with a guy she met online. The impetuous Malley has a history of not using good judgment, and, this time, she bolted because she is refusing to attend boarding school as her parents have arranged. Amber Alerts and a police investigation can’t locate Malley or the man she left with. But Richard and Skink have an idea where she might be, based on coded conversations and text messages the cousins share.
Richard and Skink take off on a Florida road trip during which the teenager learns about alligators, wild pigs and ecology through the classic “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson.
“Skink — No Surrender” explores how smart kids can sometimes do dumb things. The impulsive Malley doesn’t understand the danger in which she has put herself, while Richard grows up a bit as he takes on the responsibility of making sure his cousin is safe.
Oline H. Cogdill is a contributing writer for the South Florida Sun Sentinel.