Open Sesame: Florida Backdrop Provides Canvas for Chaotic Caper

Skink – No Surrender
New Teen Novel By Carl Hiaasen

When Malley runs away with a guy she met online to avoid going to a New Hampshire boarding school, her cousin Richard knows she’s in trouble. With the help of an ex-governor-turned-wild-renegade named Skink, Richard sets out on a crazy recuse mission deep into the Florida swamps.

Skink–No Surrender, the new novel by author Carl Hiaasen, delivers a fantastic story from start to finish. High-risk adventure spiked with laugh-out-loud humor ensues as Richard and Skink track Malley and her kidnapper. Action, drama, suspense, surprise, outrageous characters, and a heroic journey – the book has it all. Even a landscape full of its own set of dangers. From breezy, ocean beaches to steamy, buggy swamps, the Florida landscape plays a multi-dimensional role, serving as backdrop for the story, providing both beauty and tension, and producing threats like intense heat, fierce storms, killer pigs, and hungry gators. It may even reveal the extinct ivory-billed woodpecker.

A cast of memorable characters makes the story come alive, especially Skink. Skink first appeared in a Hiaasen novel for adults called Double Whammy, published in 1987, and has since appeared in several other novels as well. But Skink makes his first debut for a younger audience here, and he is certainly unforgettable. Huge, strong, one-eyed, and dressed like a hobo, with beaks in his beard and a shower cap on his head, he bursts into the story in the first chapter, and quickly becomes Richard’s best asset in saving his cousin. Skink’s massive size and unique hygiene habits are tempered by his intelligence and sensitivity, by his love of poetry and literature, and by the smooth-talking, hand-pumping personality traits an ex- governor keeps. His experience as a combat veteran makes him tough as alligator skin and fiercely loyal to the mission. His connection to a mysterious Mr. Tie, who delivers aid when needed, adds to Skink’s secrecy, while his acts of eco-heroism show the heart of a true earth defender.

For Richard, an honest teen who knows the ache of loss and grief, saving his cousin, even if it means risking his own life, is something he is compelled to do. His willingness to hit the road with Skink, skirt the law, worry his mother, put himself in peril, and test his courage makes him an interesting protagonist. And his keen perceptions mixed with a slightly sarcastic sense of humor make him a good storyteller. The personal, conversational tone and uncluttered language helps the story unfold with ease. The writing is so smooth and the storyline so action-packed, readers may find themselves unable to leave until a good dose of swamp justice is served.

Carl Hiaasen has published more than 20 books for adults, and made his debut in children’s literature with the Newberry Honor Medal winner, Hoot (also highly recommended), published in 2002. Skink–No Surrender is his first book for teens, and was long-listed for the 2014 National Book Award in Young People’s Literature. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

  • Skink–No Surrender written by Carl Hiaasen. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. 281 pages. ISBN: 978-0-375-87051-4


Cheli Mennella

Cheli has been involved with creative arts and education for most of her life, and has taught many subjects from art and books to yoga and zoology. But she has a special fondness for kid’s books, and has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Valley Kids and teaches a course for adults in “Writing for Children.” She writes from Colrain, where she lives with her musician-husband, three children, and shelves full of kid’s books.

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