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Hoot    by Carl Hiaasen order for
by Carl Hiaasen
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Knopf, 2004 (2002)
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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Readers of Carl Hiaasen's creations take a journey into the unexpected involving wit, a judicious plot, and environmental issues. The author's youth novel debut, Hoot, is no exception. The story (and it is a hoot) features real owls - the burrowing kind that measure approximately nine inches tall, brown with spotted wings, and amber eyes. The difficulty for some people is that the living quarters for these miniature wonders of nature is an under-construction site for a branch of Mother Paula's All-American Pancake House.

The project foreman, Leroy Curly Branitt (who prefers to be referred to as 'supervising engineer') faces his share of problems with site vandalism constantly messing up the scheduled date for groundbreaking. Curly is in hot water with the Vice President for Corporate Relations in Mother Paula's corporation. The vandal(s) pulled up survey stakes and refilled the holes, placed alligators in the three portable potties (thank goodness the 'reptile wrangler' came to the rescue!), released cottonmouth snakes on the premises, and covered the windows of an on-watch police car with black paint. Officer David Delinko fell asleep and is in big trouble, temporarily suspended to a desk job, due to 'Not nasty big-city crime, but flaky Florida-style crime.'

Roy Eberhardt isn't new to being a new student. His dad is employed by the government and transferred often, so that Roy has been in ten locations since he began high school. Nor is Roy new to being bullied. This time around, it is Dana Matherson, who has two hobbies - 'smoking and beating up smaller kids' - and asks such questions as 'Eberhardt, are you fond of your front teeth?' From the school bus windows, Roy spots a boy dressed in a faded Miami Heat basketball jersey and no shoes, running at 'breakneck speed' past the bus. At school, Roy's friend Garrett points out Beatrice Leep (a.k.a. Bear), a tall, curly blonde with red glasses, and a 'tough guy image', a 'major soccer jock' with a connection to Roy's mystery.

One morning out walking, Roy experiences a consciousness raising. 'A fresh breeze was blowing in off the bay, and the tangy salt air tasted good. Seagulls circled overhead, while two ospreys piped at each other in a nest on top of a concrete utility pole ... In Montana, ospreys lived in the cottonwoods all along the big rivers ... remarkable that the same species of bird was able to thrive in two places so far apart, and so completely different. If they can do it, Roy thought, maybe I can, too.' His determination to find the runner, and his investigations into what the boy is up to, propel him into prickly, sticky situations. Roy contrives a plan to help save the owls. It is magnificent what can happen when people rally for a cause, when a young man has parental support, and back-up when and where least expected.

It's not just the story, but the inimitable style, in which Carl Hiaasen tells of happenings in his resident State of Florida. Superb colorful characters - Muffet Fingers, Chuck Muckle, and the owner of Rottweiler watchdogs named Klaus, Karl, Max, and Pookie Face - add vitality as support cast. The intertwining of a police officer with a goal, a construction site head with a constant headache from vandals, a tough girl who can take care of herself, Roy and the mystery of the barefoot boy, makes for a delightful read for young and old. Hiaasen and Hoot are worthy of the Newbery Honor Book recognition. Wunderbar!

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