“Mickey Cray had been out of work ever since a dead iguana fell from a palm tree and hit him on the head.” If that opening line doesn’t catch your attention and leave you with dozens of questions, I can’t begin to imagine what is going on in your brain. As it turns out, the iguana froze to death during a cold snap in southern Florida, turning it into a giant reptilian ice club, effectively giving Mickey one heck of a concussion.
Hiaasen’s latest young adult book takes us on an adventure into the Florida Everglades, where the Cray family lives and works as animal wranglers. Mickey, the father, relates better to his beasts than he does to human beings, while Wahoo (much like Sodapop and Ponyboy of The Outsiders fame, that is his real name) does a much better job bridging those worlds. When Expedition Wild!, a hit reality TV series based on wilderness survival shows up and wants the wrangling expertise of the Crays, the alligators, parrots, snakes, monkeys and raccoons are the least harmful of the creatures involved.
When it comes to TV, reality isn’t quite real. The star of the series, Derek Badger, appears on the show to be a rugged outdoorsman who can survive any situation Mother Nature can throw at him. As it turns out, he is a rather pudgy, dessert-loving whiner who doesn’t do his own stunts, doesn’t have the sense of an empty coin purse and is only saved through the graces of the editing studio.
When Derek decides he is going to “go wild” for this episode of his show, things quickly spiral out of control. From encounters with angry snakes and scared bats to a drunk man with a gun (which is a whole separate plot of its own), Badger soon realizes that he isn’t Mr. Outdoors, but clings to his desire to be the star of the series, thus earning him a huge pay raise in his next salary negotiations. Clinging to that hope, he attempts some crazy stunts, but will it be enough?
Fans of Hiaasen’s previous young adult novels, such as Flush and Hoot, will love this one as well. There is action and adventure as they characters wade through the Everglades, but unlike Expedition Wild, there is also a good dose of reality, as the subplots deal with an alcoholic and abusive father, a family on the brink of losing their home and a look at what constitutes “reality.” The book comes in at just under 200 pages, so it is just the right length for young readers. I’d give this book an instant two thumbs up, but in honor of Wahoo and his run-in with Alice, the resident alligator, I’ll stick with one thumb and one nub up, which translates to Carl Hiaasen’s Chomp earning: