Squirm is the latest of Carl Hiaasen's series of young adult novels with one-word titles. Hoot, Scat, Flush, Chomp, Skink, and now Squirm. Every one of these books I've read, and every one of his adult novels I've managed to read, is infused with an intense love for nature. In Squirm, Hiaasen takes that love to a new level. The book is virtually a naturalist's tour of Montana.
Hiaasen's protagonist this time around is 13-year-old Billy Audubon Dickens. Billy loves snakes. His mother moves him and his sister around because she "has a weird rule: We've got to live near a bald eagle nest, and by 'near,' my mother means fifteen minutes max. She's totally obsessed with these birds." Billy's father, Dennis Dickens, is nowhere to be found. He left the family many years ago to take up a mysterious job about which he will say absolutely nothing. But Billy is a resourceful kid. He's determined to find a way to find the old man and learn his secret.
Billy's odyssey takes him from Fort Pierce, Florida to Livingston, Montana, a tiny town 30 miles from Bozeman. There he finds his dad's new family but no dad. Dennis is out on a mission, allegedly for a government agency. Whatever his job is, it involves drones. Dennis is living with an Apsalooka (Crow) Indian woman named Little Thunder-Sky and her 14-year-old daughter, Summer Chasing-Hawks. The mother, known as Lil, is a river guide for visiting fishermen. And you just know that, whatever Dennis is doing, it involves nature as well. So you quickly figure out where this is going even if the mystery continues.
Squirm is a worthy addition to Hiaasen's growing body of young adult novels. It's not nearly as funny as are most of his novels for grown-ups, but it's infused with the same reverence for the natural world and a gentle way with the characters.