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13 april 2016
In 2002, Carl Hiaasen adapted his best-selling Florida noir-farce formula for child readers, produced the novel Hoot, won a Newbery Honor, and opened up a parallel career path that continues alongside his adult novels. I am a fan of his books for grown-ups, though I find those I've read extremely similar to one another. I suspect the children's books are the same because Hoot is very similar to the adult novels: no truly bad language, no murderous violence, no hookers, no niche fetishes, but very much the same neighborhood.
The central character in this third-person ensemble narrative is Roy Eberhardt, the new kid at a Florida middle school. Roy spends his days getting bullied on the schoolbus, till he spots a barefoot kid about his age racing around the neighborhood, and his life changes. Perhaps inspired by this mysterious kid, perhaps because he arrives in the novel with a mouth on him to begin with, Roy starts to verbally confront the bullies, winning over one who's really a brick (a girl named Beatrice) and humiliating another who's irredeemable (a boy named Dana).
Meanwhile, mischief, mostly unmalicious, plagues a building site where the Nth iteration of a pancake-house chain is slated to go up, because there aren't any endangered burrowing owls on that site, no sirree, at least the pancake people haven't seen any. A doofus of a cop and a nitwit of a custodian spend their time outwitted by the mischief-makers, and if you suspect that the barefoot running kid (nicknamed Mullet Fingers) is the primary mischievous character, you'd be right.
Mullet Fingers is the Lorax of Hoot; he speaks for the owls.
"Ever since I was little," Mullet Fingers said, "I've been watchin' this place disappear—the piney woods, the scrub, the creeks, the glades. Even the beaches, man—they put up all these giant hotels and only goober tourists are allowed. It really sucks." (172)A solid structure of anti-corporate environmentalism lies here atop a venerable children's-book foundation of an adventure story where the kids know, better than even the sympathetic adults, who the bad guys are and how best to stop them.
Hiaasen manages to extol reading and research while teaching something about ecology and delivering a lightly-boiled, suspenseful story. I truly enjoyed Hoot and recommend it to any child reader, or adult who's run out of Florida noirs. I shouldn't talk about Flush, Scat, and Chomp without having read them, but I suspect they resemble Hoot and one another much as Native Tongue resembles Basket Case resembles Skinny Dip – and any of them will distract you from your fear of flying – if not your fear of Florida – as long as it takes to get you to Ft. Lauderdale.
Hiaasen, Carl. Hoot. New York: Knopf [Random House], 2002. PZ .H52Ho