The price with being consistently good is the raising of expectations. Carl Hiassen has written 22 excellent novels since 1981, so at some point he had to write a novel that doesn’t meet his usual high bar. Skink: No Surrender is that book. With a plot that moves at the pace of a molasses glacier, and with main characters that make one dumb decision after the other, it was a Herculean chore to turn the pages.
The basic story: Fourteen-year old Malley is being sent away to a boarding school in the cold climes of the Northeast, away from her home in sunny Florida. And since Malley “doesn’t do” cold weather, she decides to run away with a guy she meets online. Disappears without a trace. Her best friend, her cousin Richard, decides to track her down. However, he is also only 14, so where does he even begin?
Enter Skink, one of Hiassen’s greatest fictional characters. The eccentric (a mild description) 72 year former governor of Florida turned eco-warrior, first appeared in 1987’s Double Whammy (and five other Hiassen novels). Richard runs across Skink on the beach, who agrees to help Richard track down Malley.
The worst thing about Skink: No Surrender, other than its tepid pace, is that in writing for a teen crowd, Hiassen decided to replace his typical sharp and wacky humor with a dumbed-down hipster, all-too-cool attitude – think the worst of modern day SNL or the glut of humorless Hollywood “comedy” films featuring Will Farrell-Melissa McCarthy-Adam Sandler, et all.
It’s also a crime what Hiassen has done to the character of Skink. In Hiassen’s adult novels Skink is a complex, charismatic and fascinating character, always the most interesting person in each scene. However, in the new teen book, Skink has been watered down so much, he feels like a character in an Adam Sandler movie – a shallow caricature.
There is also an uncomfortable subtle message that underlays the entire book. The stranger Malley met online is a scuzzy lunatic bad guy, but the stranger Richard meets on the beach, Skink, is a scuzzy lunatic good guy. So is Hiassen saying that it’s bad for a female kid to run away with a stranger, but okay for a male kid to do so?
Avoid this book, and read Hiassen’s other novels, in particular the five novels that feature Skink – Double Whammy, Native Tongue, Stormy Weather, Sick Puppy, Skinny Dip and Star Island.