Saturday, February 23, 2008

Carl Hiaasen

by Carl Hiaasen
Recommended Age: 12+

Here's a rare young-readers' novel from the Florida-based writer of such adult books as Sick Puppy. This book is a real hoot: good clean, family fun with an environmental conscience.

The main character is a middle-schooler named Roy Eberhardt who has just (unhappily) moved from Bozeman, Montana, to a Miami suburb called Cocoanut Cove. Roy's dream is to be a rodeo cowboy, and he loves reading cowboy comics and western novels. But his father has a government job, some vaguely defined position at the Department of Justice, which means they have to move every couple of years.

Roy is still going through the new-kid-in-school stage when a big fat bully picking on him on the school bus squashes his face against the window, and he sees a remarkable, wild-looking boy running like the wind, barefoot, in the opposite direction. He takes an interest in the running boy and, as a result, gets involved with a girl jock who can bite a hole in a bicycle tire, a boy who can catch bait fish with his bare hands, the school fake-fart champion, and a sinister plot to build a pancake restaurant on top of the nests of an endangered species of owls.

Also involved are a Miss America pageant runner-up, a German guy who trains vicious guard dogs (including one called "Pookie Face"), an alert policeman who gets his squad car windows painted black while he's sitting in it, a bald guy named Curly who shoots his own toilet, alligators in porta-potties, cottonmouth water moccasins with sparkles glued to their tails, and a would-be-burglar who flees from the scene of his crime wearing rat traps on his toes.

Roy's at-first-unexpected courage and good-heartedness, not to mention cleverness, lead him into some outrageous adventures and finally, to acts of heroism. It's a pretty lighthearted book with some memorable characters and a bit of suspense. It also has a school counselor named Viola Hennepin who is depicted as a large, unpleasant woman with a pencil-thin moustache. Hiaasen apparently likes cooking up weird names for his characters, like (chuckle, chuckle) Chuck E. Muckle.

UPDATE: Since I wrote this review, the book was tapped for a Newbery Honor, and a film based on it was released. It had a tepid reception and went to video pretty quickly... which means, if you're interested, you can see it at home! Also, Hiaasen has written a sequel, titled Flush.

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