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Book review: <i>Hoot</i> by Carl Hiaasen

the cover of the book

When Roy sees the strange boy running away from the school bus on a school day, he has no idea that soon, he and an unlikely collection of friends will be desperately trying to save an endangered species from near extinction via pancake house...

The story

Roy is the new kid in school. Again. His dad, a government employee, moves the family around a lot, and Roy finds himself in the sweltering humidity of Florida, dealing the local bully Dana on the school bus and getting through the day with a minimum of fuss.

Roy's taking it all in his stride, until one morning, through the bus window, he spies an odd looking boy. Odd, because it's a school day, the boy looks Roy's age, but has no backpack, no books, and no shoes... and he's really running.

Roy is intrigued. He keeps an eye out for the boy, and next time he sees him, bounds off the bus in pursuit. He loses him, but is intent on finding out more about this boy. When he does discover the boy, he ends up with a whole new set of problems... one of whom is Beatrice, a tall and threatening girl from his school who is just as determined that Roy finds out nothing about the strange boy.

But Roy, ever resourceful, is not to be thwarted. And when he does discover the boy and his identity, he realises that the strange boy is waging a war on behalf of some creatures who can't fight for themselves. And, together, Roy, Beatrice and the boy take on a major corporation. But can they get the word out in time and stop the destruction of a species? And can Roy work out a way to stop Dana from killing him?

The style

Carl Hiaasen writes a mean Young adult fiction. Hoot has a clear yet compelling style, the storyline is strong, and the main character is one of the best teen boy constructions I've read in a long time (although you have to bear in mind I don't read much young adult fiction these days). It's also funny without being over the top, and the characters all manage to just get away with not being stereo-types. Which is quite an achievement.

Hoot is written in the third person limited from a variety of points of view. The story unfolds from the points of view of Roy, a fairly incompetent policeman named Officer Delinko who is looking into some vandalism at a construction site, and Leroy Branitt, the construction supervisor for the new Mother Paula's Pancake house project that seems to be going nowhere due to well-timed vandalism. Roy is, as I mentioned above, incredibly well crafted. He's a fairly confident kid who knows his strengths and weaknesses and tackles each problem, from bullies to tackling big corporations, with a sense of determination and sincerity. This kind of characterisation is refreshing in Young adult fiction, where so many authors take the unoriginal "teenager thinks they are really uncool, spends whole novel agonising over it, gets girl at the end and discovers they are, in fact, cool" thing. Not only that, but Hiaasen turns a couple of other stereotypes on their heads just by giving a bit more to each of the peripheral characters. The interactions between characters are great, in general the characters are all a little bizarre in an original not silly way. A splendid job.

The main theme of the book is environmental; Roy and his new friends are trying desperately to stop the eradication of an endangered species by Mother Paula's pancake house. This is Hiaasen's recurring theme, if you will - the destruction of the environment in Florida by developers. However, because this is a Young adult fiction, he went a lot more upbeat than usual, which I appreciated. It was great, because the message was that young people CAN get out there and make a difference, and it's not really that difficult if you believe in what you're doing. Okay, it sounds naff when I write it like that, but he makes that message not sound naff at all. Which is an achievement. Good for him.

Who is this book for?

This isn't a tough slog of a read; it sort of made me thing of Lockie Leonard (a reference for Aussies!) but with an environmental twist. It would be a great read for any young adult, particularly young teenage boys who aren't normally inclined to read. It could probably hold their interest, AND they might learn that protecting the environment can be cool. Phew!

If you like this book, you would also like...

It's been a while for me and Young adult fiction. I will be revisiting some next year, so stay tuned.

In short

Title: Hoot
Author: Carl Hiaasen
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 0375821813
Year published: 2002
Pages: 292
Genre(s): Young adult
Review Type: