Carl Hiaasen – Hoot (Book Review)

Hoot

Carl Hiaasen - Hoot

With Hoot, Carl Hiaasen adapts his style surprisingly well for young readers. After the adult themes are stripped out, he’s left with a slapstick story of wild Florida and the seedy businessmen who threaten it. Seen through the eyes of children, it makes for a good adventure. It starts with Roy Eberhardt, the new kid in town, noticing a barefoot boy running along and obviously not going to school. Determined to investigate it, he finds himself caught up in something that is alternately mystery, adventure, and environmental quest.

That running boy is the selling point of the book. Wild and mysterious – a lot about him is still unknown at the end – he brings the untamed corners of Florida alive and will excite kids’ imaginations. There is a bit of nuance (and outright tragedy) to his home life, which will grab the adult readers who are too jaded to fantasize about running away to the wilds.

Despite this, the other main characters just seem to be thrown together to build a plot around that boy’s adventures. Roy, the main character, is bland and never fully defined: He’s shy, but people want to be his friend. He’s tormented by bullies, but stands up to them with the kind of self-confidence that only appears in children’s stories. The book frequently tells about experiences from his past, but the sheer number of those events (such as seeing a dead body or running into wild animals) is hard to believe for a boy his age. The book’s poor grasp on Roy’s character is most apparent when he devises a plan that involves taunting a bully. The narrator explains that this was unnatural for a shy boy like Roy, which comes as a surprise to the reader who has made it through half the book without noticing a trace of shyness!

There are two other point-of-view characters, both adults who become caught up in the “seedy businessmen” side of a Hiaasen book. They are simplistic and dumber than the reader, and their relationship to their job (alternately daydreaming about promotion and having their bosses threaten to fire them) work only because the target audience is too young to understand the adult world. It’s hard to blame the book for this (it is aimed at readers slightly younger than a standard YA novel), but it does make it less interesting for adults.

The story is interesting, especially while Roy is chasing the truth in the first half of the book. Hiaasen paces it well, with stumbling blocks and unexpected threats keeping the plot unpredictable. This does fall down near the end, as Roy’s ultimate plan to win the day is telegraphed far in advance, and then doesn’t actually make as much difference as the bumbling of the bad guys.

Though flawed, Hoot provides a page-turning thrill that is unusual in books for this age. It has a great character in the “running boy” and a look at family dynamics that makes up for the otherwise silly depiction of the world. I don’t know that it would be enjoyable for many adults, but it’s a fun children’s book.

Grade: B-


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