Richard is your average fourteen year old. He lives in Florida and enjoys turtle-watching with his also fourteen-year-old cousin Malley. When Malley fails to show up for the night’s expedition, Richard gets worried and texts her, only to hear that she has apparently been grounded.
Sitting on the beach, Richard gradually hears breathing coming from a straw sticking out of the sand. He pulls the straw out only to have a full grown man pop up. The man who identifies himself as Clint Tyree, also known as “Skink” as Richard finds out later through Wikipedia, is waiting to confront a man who has been stealing and selling turtle eggs on the black market. Skink tells Richard: “Hold my eye” and “plucked the left one out of his face.” So begins the quirky adventure of Skink and Richard.
The next day, Richard realizes Malley has run away with a much older guy she met in a chat room in an effort to avoid being sent to Twigg Academy, an all-girls boarding school. With Skink’s help as ex-governor, Richard and Skink go on a whirlwind adventure to find and save Malley. Since the internet, and the world, believes Skink is dead, he has to make sure that his secret remains.
Any boy age 10-15 should be able to connect to Richard. He’s an interesting kid who likes to sit on the beach, work a little throughout the week, and innocently ridicule his stepfather, Trent. Tragically, he lost his real father in a skateboarding/UPS accident. He’s ready for adventure, though a little apprehensive when one lands on his doorstep. He’s slightly judgmental, though what teenage boy isn’t. He, not so kindly, suggests that Skink leave the beach when he first meets him as Skink appears to be homeless, and he has a pessimistic attitude about youth, saying that “certain kids are going to flame out in the grownup world-either crash and burn or flop the old-fashioned way.” He refuses to cuss, calling Malley a “b-word,” which parents should appreciate about this book.
For girls, Malley is not someone you should admire. She lies to her parents about going to school early for orientation, meets the Talbo Chalk guy (stolen name, by the way), and runs off with him, only to get into deep trouble and need Richard’s help. She is sarcastic and whiney, and it’s any wonder Richard loves to be around her so much.
By far, Skink is the best character in the novel, and the book would not be successful without him. When Richard first meets Skink on the beach, he is wearing camouflage pants and has a long beard with beak (yes, bird) attachments. After faking his death, he has become a wanderer and an advocate for nature and animals. While Richard believes he is just an old, homeless man, Skink proves himself to be strong and clever, getting Richard into and out of some dangerous situations. Having been the governor of Florida, he is also quite intelligent, often referencing classical authors and poets. For example, he tells Richard: “Don’t fart on my Steinbeck” as Richard is too short for the steering wheel and must sit on East of Eden. Skink isn’t a dynamic character, but it is that static personality that drives the plot forward. As a reader, you don’t want him to change whereas you kind of wish Richard would grow up a little.
Carl Hiaasen’s first YA novel is smart, contemporary, and witty, and it is through these characteristics that it reaches its success. Referencing pop culture (One Direction, Bruno Mars, Wikipedia, Google, Yolo, Pearl Jam, Dumbledore, etc.) solidifies the setting of the novel and attracts the young readers to whom Hiaasen is reaching. He cleverly allows Richard to leave out specific information in the novel that he predicts the reader is dying to know, but the reader easily accepts this deletion. The section that made me actually laugh out loud is when Richard sums up his adventure with Skink and says “And that, in the words of Forrest Gump, is all she said about that.” I actually heard Tom Hanks’ voice here.
Overall, Skink—No Surrender is a page-turning escape into the bowels of Florida with an undeniable spark of originality. It will hit stores on September 23, 2014.
**FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free review copy from Random House in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any money for this review. **