Hiaasen, Carl. Skink: No Surrender
25 September 2014, Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Richard has troubles of his own-- his father was killed in a skateboarding accident, and his stepfather is a bit vague if supportive. But his cousin Malley is trouble. Her parents are sending her away to school at Twigg Academy so that everyone can have a break. She says she is going early for orientation, but Richard doubts her... and has reason to be. She has run off with a guy she met on the internet named Talbo Chock, but Richard researches and finds out the the real Talbo died in combat. Having met a wildlife activist, Clint Tyree aka Skink, on the beach, Richard enlists his aid in finding his cousin, since the law enforcement called doesn't seem to think Malley is in danger. Richard and Skink take off, to the dismay of Richard's mother. Skink reassures her he's okay, and puts her in contact with his agent, Mr. Tile. Taking clues from brief phone calls, Richard and Skink locate the runaway couple, and follow the trail through the wetlands until they find them on a houseboat. Malley clearly is scared and wants to get away, but Talbo is clearly unhinged and does not want to let her go. Luckily, Skink is a tough old bird who won't give up, even if it means fighting alligators!
Strengths: This is action packed, like Chomp, but is grittier than anything Hiaasen has done for younger readers. Chomp has some good comic moments, but this had the element of real-life-scary suspense. Not only is Richard in danger from things that come out of the water and can kill you, but Malley has very foolishly put herself in danger by ignoring every internet predator warning she has ever gotten. Skink is a fabulous character, and one that we don't see enough in MG fiction-- an older person who is fully in charge of his faculties and of the situation! While this is "gritty", there's really nothing in it that makes it inappropriate for younger readers. Hiassen has really found the perfect mix between his adult stories and middle grade interests with this great book.
Weaknesses: A bit of suspension of disbelief is called for, and there are some gory scenes and a death that might upset very young readers, although it is handled believably and is the result of the characters karma. I would give this to 5th graders, but perhaps not to younger readers.