Skink - No Surrender - Carl Hiaasen

I haven't read any of Hiaasen's other novels starring Skink. I feel as though many reviewers had, and therefore were probably biased due to a history with the character. Some seem to feel that this book tones things down for a younger audience, though I don't see how that's possible, unless the more "adult" novels are entering the realm of fantasy. I had no such previous introduction to the off-the-wall ex-Governor of Florida, with his penchant for vigilante justice and his activist tendencies, and I found myself drawn to him within moments of his explosive introduction (literally, the man bursts out of the sand while protecting turtle nests!!)

[A]s I was peering at the spot where the soda straw had been, the turtle nest basically exploded. A Full-grown man shot upright in a spray of sand, and my heart must have stopped beating for ten seconds. Built like a grizzly, he was coughing and swearing and spitting through a long, caked beard. On his chiseled block of a head he wore (I swear) a flowered plastic shower cap. Even weirder, his left eye and right eye were pointed in totally different directions.

Well, if that description doesn't get you interested, I guess you've probably seen it all. Skink, though at times described in nearly god-like terms, is a fabulous character, filled with strength, caring, and many, many grey areas. He has done questionable things in his past, but always with the best of intentions, and though Richard, the protagonist of the story, is shocked at times by Skink's lack of emotion, Skink ends up being someone that others can't help but trust.

Richard is a well-rounded character as well, though he is often overshadowed by Skink's charismatic nature. He obviously cares very much for his cousin, Malley, who has disappeared, and whose life is very possibly in peril. He risks life and limb to rescue her, with Skink's help, of course, and his determination is admirable, even if some of his choices probably end up putting him more at risk than if he were to trust the authorities. Of course, we've all seen what has been going on with authorities in North America, so mistrust isn't exactly something we should be all that surprised by. Having lost his father at an early age, Richard's desire to connect with Skink on a deeper emotional level is very understandable.
So there we were, rolling along the interstate through downtown Tampa, rocking out to my dad's music. Sometimes when I'd look over at the governor, I couldn't believe he was seventy-two. Other times he looked about a hundred and ten. Now he was like a teenager, shaking a fist and howling the lines in a Pearl Jam song.
Malley is annoying, for the most part, but I can live with it since she's really somewhat secondary to the story. And though I did have a moment of thinking that she was perhaps portrayed too much as the weak and vulnerable damsel in distress, as the story moved forward, her strength and determination began to reveal itself. The one truly despicable character is T.C., but I won't get too much into that since it might ruin parts of the story. The parents are also nicely rendered, showing both annoyance and Richard and Malley's rebelliousness and also understanding at the difficulties of the situations. Even though some may see their reactions as far too mild, I think they work in the context of the story.
You understand why I'm not enthusiastic about this impulsive trip of yours. We're all worried about your cousin, but my job is to worry about you. [...]
At times like this I find myself wondering what your father would do if he were here. As you know, he was always the 'free spirit' in our family. He used to tell me it was healthy to let you boys cut loose and take a few changes, but I suspect that even he would be alarmed by what you're doing. Please come home, honey.
Hiaasan's writing is solid, and while not as nuanced as I think it could have been the style works with the themes and the sense of urgency. I love that the novel manages to deal with a number of themes that steer clear of black and white morality. Revenge is pondered and discussed, merits of killing are debated, and other questionable acts are committed throughout the course of the novel.

Perhaps not what I would consider a winner of the National Book Award (2014), I can see why a committee would want to include it in the longlist (and possibly the shortlist). Skink - No Surrender is a novel that stirs up feelings of hope and desire, frustration and retribution, and while it has its small issues, the book will be sure to capture young readers' imaginations.

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