Being a fan of Mr. Hiaasen's wonderfully twisted, weird fiction for adults, I was intrigued by the idea of him writing for a younger audience. Would there be a crazed, hulking idiot with a dead pit bull hanging off his arm? A roadkill-eating former governor? How would he present his somewhere-between-amused-and-disgusted attitude toward humanity in a manner palatable to kids?
I'm happy to report that HOOT is funny, well written, and enjoyable, even for a depraved old lady like me. The plot concerns Roy Eberhardt, an intelligent, resourceful middle-school student who has just moved to Florida from Montana. He misses the mountains and wilderness of Montana. As a kid who has moved a lot, he's not surprised to be the victim of bully Dana Matherson. While being pummeled by Dana on the school bus, Roy spies a kid running along the sidewalk, a kid with no backpack and no shoes. Intrigued, he sets out to find him and gets involved up to his eyeballs in the strange kid's guerilla tactics to save a particular street corner from its fate as the future site of another Mother Paula's All-American Pancake. The adults seem to be ignoring the burrows of tiny owls that will be buried by the bulldozing equipment any day now. Roy's parents explain that it surely is a shame about the owls, but the company must have filed all of the papers and received all of the necessary permits. But Roy and his new friends --- Mullet Fingers, the outlaw boy, and Beatrice, his tough, soccer playing stepsister --- are not about to take the destruction of the owls' burrows lying down. Along the way they outwit Officer Delinko, the ambitious cop who tries to protect the site, and Curly, the foreman who's responsible for getting the job started.
Roy's parents are thoughtful and very caring. Roy shields his tenderhearted Mom from the fact that Mullet Fingers lives in the woods and at the dump because his own mother doesn't want him. That's probably the most brutal aspect of the novel, unless perhaps it's the dishonesty of the Mother Paula's corporation in attempting to deny the existence of the endangered owls. Mr. and Mrs. Eberhardt worry about Roy and advise him, but ultimately, Roy figures out a successful plan on his own.
The book carries us along with a pleasing suspense and steady pace. The author provides neat encapsulations of each character's motivations that are often missing from adult fiction. (Presumably we can work it out for ourselves.) While it might be missing the extreme characters and profanity of his adult novels, HOOT still reflects Mr. Hiaasen's usual indignation over the rape of his native Florida. Roy is an appealing character, one who may very well inspire young readers to question authority when necessary and act to protect the environment. How subversive is that? Kids of all ages should love it.
Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on September 10, 2002