Cindy: ‘”Hold my eye,” (Skink) said, and plucked the left one out of his face.’ By page 8 reluctant readers are going to be hooked by Hiassen’s latest mystery, Skink–No Surrender (Knopf 2014). Skink won’t be new to Hiaasen’s adult fans who may have encountered the hermit Vietnam vet, ex-governor of Florida in a half dozen of his adult titles, but he will delight teen readers meeting him for the first time. Richard finds Skink on a Florida beach using a straw to breath under the sand in a fake Loggerhead turtle egg nest while he waits to catch a thief who sells the prized eggs on the black market. Richard soon learns that Skink has no hesitation in administering vigilante justice to those who harm the environment. Teens will be laughing as they get some lessons on the dos and don’ts of responsible stewardship of natural things.
The mystery in this new Hiassen novel, aimed at a slightly older audience than his previous children’s novels, extends beyond the environment. Richard’s cousin, Malley, doesn’t show up for the beach outing and then goes missing. Turns out she’s been corresponding with an online boyfriend and has run away to meet him and avoid boarding school. In an unlikely pairing of “secret agent bounty hunters,” Skink and Richard hit the road and the shenanigans begin. Malley is in danger but the details are left vague and teens can fill in the blanks for themselves.
I laughed out loud while reading this and have already shared it with two 7th grade teachers who both stayed up late turning pages. We are all eager to test it on their students in the fall. I think I need some eye gumballs on hand when I booktalk this. “Here, hold my eye!”
Lynn: I want to be there for THAT booktalk! Cindy’s going to need a zillion copies! Hiaasen’s books are always popular here anyway and this one is sure to make past fans happy and create a lot of new ones. Skink is toned-down a bit but not much in his first appearance in youth books. There plenty of ewwww moments with road-kill and eating the leeches that stick to his beard but Skink’s motives, as always, are on the side of nature and justice. Alligators, feral pigs and even the ivory-billed woodpecker make appearances too and the theme of respecting the environment is strong. Skink’s responses to littering may be a bit drastic (filling a BMW convertible with garbage after the owner throws a wrapper onto the highway) but the thought IS cheering.
The main character, Richard, is a nice guy – reliable and responsible, if a bit guilt-ridden about something he did a year ago – AND he worries about his mother. He also worries about his wild impulsive cousin and the plot thread of an online-stalker is what pushes this book to a slightly older audience. We are assured that thanks to Malley’s tough character, nothing much happens to hurt her, but a definite uneasiness lies under the surface and the stalker meets a gruesome end. I think readers will love this fun, fast-paced story and respond to the underlying messages. As Richard notes:
My father used to say that you live most of your life inside your own head, so make sure it’s a good space.”