Squirm

Book review by
Rachel Sarah, Common Sense Media
Squirm Book Poster Image
Boy saves animals and his family in fun environmental tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn a great deal about snakes in Florida, wildlife in Montana (such as grizzly bears and panthers), and how drones work. Mentions of the Crow Nation. "It's almost embarrassing to admit that Lil and Summer are the first two Native Americans I've met."

Positive Messages

Strong messages about importance of advocating for wildlife, saving endangered species, protecting the earth. Themes touch on the power of family, trusting yourself, protecting the environment.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Although Billy's dad is an environmental vigilante, he comes across as selfish, uncommunicative. He dropped out of Billy's life and never stayed in touch. Billy's mom, an eagle-loving Uber driver, is present and caring (and very forgiving!).

Sex
Language

Name-calling: "dumb," "jackass," "smart-ass."

Consumerism

Brands mentioned include: Uber, Nascar, Ford Explorer, Delta, Facebook, Doritos, Pepsi, Gatorade, Publix, Foot Locker, GoPro, McDonald's.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The poacher who kills endangered animals smokes cigarettes. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Squirm, by Carl Hiassen, is a funny, adventurous contemporary novel about a middle school boy who's fascinated by snakes, has already moved six times to different towns in Florida, and joins his long-lost dad in some vigilante schemes to protect endangered animals. Parents should be prepared to have conversations about growing up with an absent parent, keeping secrets, and the ways humans have devastated our environment and wildlife. Billy sometimes lies for a good cause, such as saving an endangered panther from a wealthy poacher, and also saving his own father along the way. Infrequent strong language includes "jackass" and "smart-ass."

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What's the story?

Billy Dickens, the middle school main character in SQUIRM, loves snakes and can't stand bullies. When Billy was only 4 years old, his father disappeared. Every month since his dad split town, he has sent money to Billy's mother, who cashes the check and then destroys the envelope. One day, Bill pieces together his father's address in Montana and sets out to find him. Instead, he meets his father's new family: Lis, his new stepmom, and Summer, his new stepsister, both of whom belong to the Crow Nation. Together they embark on an adventure that involves grizzly bears, spy drones, and an endangered panther.

Is it any good?

This quick, funny read tackles lots of issues, including an absent father, wildlife poachers, and endangered animals. Bill Dickens is a very amusing, adventurous middle schooler, although some aspects of the adventures in Squirm are not plausible, such as when he writes a check from his savings account and leaves it for his mother to cover the cost of his flight to Montana.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the environmental issues in Squirm. What do you think of how Billy's father behaves to protect endangered animals? What other choices could he have made?

  • Is it OK to break the rules -- or keep secrets -- if you're doing so for a good cause, such as protecting the environment? 

  • Families can talk about how secrets are portrayed and dealt with in Squirm. Why would Billy's father want to keep his whereabouts a secret?

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