I love books that successfully blend a great story with interesting facts. I have been meaning to read Carl Hiaasen’s Chomp since it came out in March of last year. When I saw the shiny new audiobook, I checked it out right away. As an added bonus, Chomp is narrated by actor James Van der Beek. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was very pleasantly surprised with what I heard.
Wahoo Cray and his parents live in the Florida Everglades. His father Mickey is a professional wrangler, so they’re always surrounded by animals. Mickey takes in reptiles who are generally docile and non-threatening, but even his skill with animals doesn’t save him from getting clocked on the head by a huge iguana falling from a tree. Post-concussion, Mickey has terrible headaches and has to stop working for a while. The economy isn’t what it once was, however. When the housing bubble bursts, the Crays find themselves in danger of losing their home. Wahoo’s mother takes a teaching job in China, and Mickey is called to help T.V. star and “survivalist” Derek Badger with his man-versus-nature television show. Although Derek is a complete phony, Mickey grudgingly accepts the job because he needs the money, and the T.V. crews move in.
Derek Badger is a fake-tanned, faux-Australian imposter who couldn’t survive in the wild if his life depended on it. In an attempt to appear daring on camera, he makes a foolish move that nearly gets him killed. Mickey saves his life. Derek’s managers are so impressed that they decide to hire Wahoo’s dad to go with them deeper into the wild to film what they believe will be their most exciting show yet. What happens next is a hilarious adventure with plenty of bizarre twists. The introduction of some new characters also keeps the story moving at an exciting pace.
Chomp provides intriguing (and disturbing) details about how Florida’s wildlife has been disrupted by human meddling. It’s also a really funny, satirical look at the world of reality television, where nothing is actually real. As the author himself says in an interview with School Library Journal, “Kids love sarcasm and the idea of bursting a grown-up’s bubble.” The world of Chomp is one in which kids are often more savvy than grown-ups, which is undoubtedly part of what makes the book so appealing for young readers. Carl Hiaasen blends humour, satire, and a message about the environment that is hard to miss but not at all preachy.
Now, back to the narrator: James Van der Beek reads with great expression, keeping the excitement and humour at the perfect levels. He uses distinctive voices for each character, which makes the story a lot of fun to listen to. I would recommend this audiobook (or the book itself!) to kids who love funny adventure and survival stories.