Fred Gorrell's Reviews > Hoot

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
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Jul 25, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction-youngadult
Read in January, 2006

For many years, Mr. Hiaasen has written delightful, funny books for adult readers. His truly despicable villains engage in behaviors base and inhumane; his heroes have pure hearts and feet of clay. There is always a dual conflict: the hero against the villain and the hero against his internal failings and demons. Mr. Hiaasen's eye and ear for detail -- most likely honed so sharp in the city room of the Miami Herald, where he was employed in some capacity as most of his novels were written -- enable him to decorate his stories with small, deliciously perverse details that make the reader laugh aloud. The humor and irony serve to contain the horror and anguish of his tales.

These novels, while they have all the elements that would make them great tools for learning how to read and truly appreciate a good novel, are just too adult to use in a middle school classroom. Even if we were to set aside reservations about some of the details and scenes that are measured as "adult" because of violence, sexuality, or immorality - most of which are less gratuitous than things shown on prime time TV -- the aspirations and challenges that confront the heros would probably not resonate with younger readers.

Fortunately for students and for teachers who want very much to share his craft and humor, Mr. Hiaasen has turned of late in his career to writing novels for young readers. In fact, these books may feel a little young for some readers at middle school, particularly if they are drawn to urban fiction. They are entirely suitable for use in the classroom, they include all of the same great fiction elements as his adult books, and they are packed with the irony and pathos that are the author's special gift. Hoot is the first of four books of this type Mr. Hiaasen has published so far; the others are Flush, Scat, and Chomp.

In each of these books, Mr. Hiaasen carries forward his formula: the hero has both an external villain and some inner turmoil. The external conflict each time is rooted in concern for the environment of South Florida; the villain is always indifferent to some element which is held dear and valued by the righteous (and ecologically aware). In Hoot, the villain is a restaurant chain that is planning to build on a critical habitat with complete insensitivity to the endangered burrowing owls who live there. As their names imply, the following three books focus on other environmental threats: Flush confronts dumping of toxic materials that endanger a marine biome; Scat focuses on the endangered Florida panther, and Chomp addresses unwise forays among wild animals in the Everglades.

The inner challenge for the protagonist in Hoot is to come to peace with his family's decision to uproot him from his beloved home in Montana and move him to Florida. He comes to peace with their decision as he makes friends and comes to see that the wilderness in Florida is no less interesting and important than in his old home. Many kids who have been uprooted experience stress and anger or a sense of betrayal that can be difficult to resolve, and they may take some comfort and inspiration from reading about this character's experience.

For those of us who live and teach in South Florida - no small number of whom may have been inspired to look twice at the idea of moving here because of Mr. Hiaasen's novels, ironically - these books are obvious choices not just because they stand so tall as good fiction, but because they can help some students connect to things already familiar, and awaken others to the wonder of the environment at our doorstep. Similar issues are present in all other parts of the world, so the book can still be useful as a tool to get kids thinking about the environment and about ways they can be of service to it and to their community.

These books are great launching pads for field trips with environmental things and for informational reading units.
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