A key player in Carl Hiaasen's new book for young adults — "Skink No Surrender" (Knopf, $18.99) — is one of the best-loved, wacky characters from his adult novels. This time the vigilante former governor of Florida shows up lying in wait on a beach for a sea turtle egg thief; he's buried under the sand and breathing through a striped straw that protrudes through the surface.
Hiaasen says he thought it was time to introduce Skink — who wears a flowered shower cap, has a fake left eye that doesn't match his right one, survives by eating roadkill and frequently employs his own brand of justice — to a younger generation "before he got too old and cranky."
Skink, in his 70s, joins 14-year-old Richard in a road-and-river trip through Florida to rescue Richard's teenage cousin Malley, who has run off with an older guy she met in an Internet chat room and has found herself trapped in a dangerous situation.
Hiassen, 61, has written more than a dozen adult novels and four other children's books and is still a weekly columnist for the Miami Herald. "Skink No Surrender," which launched Sept. 23, is already one of 10 contenders for a National Book Award for Young People's Literature.
Hiassen talked to Newsday from his home in Vero Beach, Florida, in advance of his book talk and signing scheduled for Oct. 9 at Barnes & Noble in Carle Place.
Why did you choose to include Skink in this book?
Skink knows his way around the wilderness. That's the kind of person you want with you if you're trying to do a rescue. He's his own scruffy version of SEAL Team Six. Kids like characters who can sometimes defy authority if it's for a good cause. Skink is not a model citizen. But he does have character traits. He does have honor. He does have a strong moral compass. These are all good things for kids to find in a character. I've had people show up at book signings dressed as him. They'll have a shower cap and an eye patch.
The book is filled with references familiar to teens, such as YOLO, iPod playlists and Wikipedia. How did you manage to write a first-person book through the eyes of a teenage boy?
I'm lucky because I've got a built-in test market in the family. One of the things that you learn as a reporter, or you better learn, is you learn to listen. Driving kids around in a car, you listen to how kids talk, the cadence, what they're talking about.
The book also introduces kids to some books and music from their grandparents' generation. for instance, you have Skink handing Richard the 1962 environmental book "Silent Spring," by Rachel Carson, which details the horrors caused by pesticides such as DDT.
"Silent Spring" is an important book. It's as important a book now as it was in the '60s. I'm not proselytizing about it. If five kids go read that book, those five kids are going to be changed by it. But I don't do it in a preachy way. I do it in a casual way.
This book, like many of your works, extols the importance of protecting the environment. A tupelo tree, garfish, and the extinct ivory-billed woodpecker all play vivid roles. Kids even learn that a Skink is a type of lizard. Why is the environment relevant?
It's not a Huck Finn raft trip, but it's a trip down a river. You want to see and experience the things Richard is seeing. Just about anywhere I am in Florida, I can get in the car and in, at most, two hours be somewhere where you don't lay eyes on another person — where you're in some little part of wilderness that hasn't been paved over or screwed up yet. It's still incredibly breathtaking.
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Oct. 9 at Barnes & Noble, Country Glen Shopping Center, 91 Old Country Rd., Carle Place
INFO Free, but book is $18.99; 516-741-9850, bn.com