Friday, 25 July 2014

Skink No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen Review

14 year old Malley is being sent away to a boarding school that’ll displace her from her sunny home state of Florida to the chilly climes of the American North-East – and she doesn’t “do” cold climates. So of course the reasonable course of action is to run away with some guy she met online!

Her close cousin Richard decides to track her down, but, as he’s also only 14, where does he even begin? Enter Skink, the eccentric 72 year old officially “dead” former governor of Florida now turned eco-warrior, who agrees to help Richard track down Malley. Because, unfortunately, the stranger Malley met online has turned out to be a crazy scuzzball but the stranger Richard meets turns out to be a crazy good guy. The mixed message being that it’s ok for a male teenager to run away with a weird stranger but not for a female teenager to, or that you’ve got to choose your lunatic more carefully?

Skink No Surrender is an utterly dismal novel. Its plot is hideously slow and wholly unremarkable as Richard and Skink eke slowly across Florida without a single interesting thing happening along the way, until they blunder across Malley. And when they do, the “villain” is so laughably incompetent that the novel starts and ends with nary a sign of conflict to be seen.

The biggest mistake Carl Hiaasen makes is to treat young adult readers as if they’re a completely different type of audience. Most readers – whether teenager or older – prefer fast-moving, exciting stories over slow, eventless ones, and all readers, I’m sure, dislike being talked down to as if they’re generic idiots. So when Hiaasen lobs in some “young people” terms, they sit awkwardly on the page – it’s clear Hiaasen’s pandering to his audience and hoping that by doing so, they’ll be more invested in the non-story. Hey, kids, Wikipedia, chat rooms, YOLO!!!, Google, Dumbledore, Bruno Mars. That’s the checklist to show that a 61 year old writer “gets” the youngs, right?

Also, just because Skink is a young adult novel, doesn’t mean Hiaasen can be sloppy in his work, like being artlessly heavy-handed with the eco-messages. Whole pages read like excerpts from Wikipedia, “educating” the reader in the midst of the snoozy story. Listen up kids, it’s not cool to litter or disrespect the nesting habits of sea turtles, dig? And then there are more mixed messages as the main characters are told to care about nature and animals, but gators and wild pigs? Kill as many as you like!

The single-saving grace of the book is the character of Skink. He enlivens the story whenever he appears with his unpredictable behaviour, nuggets of homespun wisdom, and general awesomeness – he lives a rough life but he’s smart with his own distinct code of honour. As a recurring character from Hiaasen’s adult novels, he’s a complex and charismatic person – it’s just a shame that level of effort is missing from Hiaasen’s young adult characters.

But though Skink’s a great character, it’s not nearly enough to make Skink No Surrender worth reading. It’s a humourless, tedious, unimaginative stew of non-scenes and endless empty chapters that’ll test both your patience and your ability to stay awake at the same time.

Whether you’re an adult or a young adult, you can do better than this lazy, poorly conceived effort – Skink No Good.

Skink No Surrender

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