Read more 2016 Caudills reviews.

Chomp by Carl Hiaasen

This is a contemporary realistic fiction book inset with adventure/survival. The setting is the Everglades after a brief jaunt at the main character’s movie ranch/wildlife center. Wahoo’s mother is in Asia on business, so it’s up to him to babysit his dad. Yep. His dad has always been the kind of person to do whatever he wants even if it is bad for business. And now it’s even worse because his dad suffered a concussion from a lizard falling out of a tree and onto his head. Now his dad gets really bad migraines all the time and is having a hard time finding clients as a wildlife wrangler and controlling his temper.  He keeps “wild” animals to use in wildlife shows so that they are tame enough to not eat the show hosts (even if his father wouldn’t mind if that happened). His dad is deeply reverent of the animals and gets along with animals better than humans. Wahoo also understands and respects the animals. But, he needs his dad to find work, even if the production crew are jerks. They are behind on all their payments and could lose their house. It’s up to Wahoo to keep everything together.
Enter Derek Badger, one of the most popular wildlife survival show hosts. He employs Wahoo’s dad to do an Everglades episode. But everything about Derek is fake. He’s a jerk, doesn’t know anything about animals or survival, and doesn’t do his own stunts. He doesn’t even sleep outside (they heli him to a hotel). Wahoo and his dad are disgusted but Wahoo tries to get his dad to control his pride and anger and just make them the money they need. Then Derek ups the ante to an actual wildlife episode and they take on a runaway girl in Wahoo’s class who is abused and her gun-toting crazy father who is after them. Mass chaos ensues and it is pretty hilarious.
I didn’t think I’d like this book much, but it was really great. I like the way the language is laid back, cerebral, and sounds like it has a cowboy lilt to it. It takes many issues that could be considered serious and almost makes fun of them while exploring what would happen if you mashed them up in one big pot. Here’s a style example: “Wahoo has acquired a shadow named Tuna – a girl who’s sporting a shiner courtesy of her father and needs a place to hide out.” Derek Badger is also ridiculously hilarious because of how stupid he is and innervating because of how spoiled he is. I don’t want to give it away, but babysitting Badger and keeping Wahoo’s dad from homicidal tendencies is part of the amusement.
It doesn’t hurt that James Van Der Beek (Dawson’s Creek *swoon*) is the audio narrator and does an amazing job of making it sound all Southern and wrangled up.