Thursday, April 4, 2013

C: Carl Hiassen

Book Review: Scat, by Carl Hiaasen, 240 pp.  Upper-middle grade fiction

Scat is sort of a comic thriller for kids.  Hiaasen is up to his usual, with just slightly absurd characters and situations overlying a serious message about ecology and conservation.  Except "message" isn't the right word, because he's not preaching.  He's just presenting interesting and sometimes likeable characters who care about Florida's wilderness and wildlife (I haven't encountered any of his books that aren't about Florida).

Nick Waters and his best buddy Marta Gonzales are not-too-enthusiastic students at Truman School, where they are tormented by the science teacher, Mrs. Starch, and go in fear of Duane Scrod, Jr.   Known around school as "Smoke," Duane is 16 and rides a motorcycle though only in the 7th grade.  Nick and Marta consider Mrs. Starch a witch and Duane a psychopath.

A field trip to Black Vine Swamp results in changes to a lot of their perceptions.  A fire cuts short the trip, Mrs. Starch disappears, and Smoke undergoes an apparent personality transplant before being accused of setting the fire and going on the lam.  Threats to both the swamp and an adorable (though sharp-clawed baby panther escalate.

A pair of bumblingly evil oil execs and their hapless employee Martin make up the main cast of villains.  They are unsuccessful at just about everything, as evidenced by Jimmy Lee Bayliss popping Tums one after another, and Drake McBride getting clobbered by the horse he's trying to learn to ride in an effort to look like a real Texan (because all oilmen are Texans, right?).  So we are never in any real doubt that the villains will get theirs, no one will end up dead, and everything will be okay in the end.  It's how we get there that creates just the right amount of tension for a kid's book.

A second thread running through the book is that of Nick's National Guard father, who has been sent to Iraq, where all is not going well (I'll keep it vague to avoid spoilers).  My first reaction was that this was a little too dark a thread for a story like Hiaasen's.  On reflection, however, I realized that (though the connection is never made explicit), the threat to both Black Vine Swamp and Mr. Waters is the same: our unquenchable thirst for oil.  Hiaasen leaves the reader to figure that one out herself, thus preserving his book as a great humorous thriller, not a sermon on the evils of an oil-based economy.  He never preaches: we are left to see for ourselves that a swamp and a panther are more to be cherished--and are a lot more loveable--than an oil company.

Took me something from 30-50 pages to get truly grabbed, something that I've noticed with Hiaasen's other books.  I'm not sure if this is something to do with the books, with the level of attention I'm bringing to my reading when I first start a book, or with the fact that I'm not really a Florida person so I'm a little slow to warm up.  Certainly by the end I'm more than willing to sacrifice some of my sleep to see how it all comes out.  And maybe Hiaasen would be happy to know that while I'll never give up my preference for desert and alpine environments, he's gradually eroding my distaste for bugs and humidity and making me kinda want to see the Everglades.

Five stars.

14 comments:

  1. You had me at Ninja Librarian. I've got two kids and I'm always looking for new books that they'll want to read.
    Good luck with the challenge!

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  2. Excellent post and very good reviews.

    Look forward for tomorrows post.

    Yvonne.

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  3. Thanks! Argh! Tomorrow's post. . . I haven't even quite finished the books! I foresee some serious scrambling this month!

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  4. Great review Rebecca, I am very intrigued by this Carl Hiaasen, and you have brought another very interesting read to our attention. Thanks for linking it in to the Kid Lit Blog Hop. Cheers Julie Grasso

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  5. I know we have a Carl Hiaasen book here somewhere... not sure which one it is. I'm curious now and am going to search for it!
    Great review! :)

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  6. I always end by enjoying his books a lot--and for some reason always begin with reservations. I'm pretty sure this has something to do with Florida, not his writing. I hate heat and humidity :D

    But yes, do check him out, Julie! Good for boys and girls, which I think is always nice.

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  7. Hello, I'm Marjorie. I'm so glad I stopped by--your blog looks like it is an amazing resource. I've wanted to turn my blog into a blog about books, specifically books written for women. You have a very tight focus here, and your style is fluid and concise. You're awesome! Totally following you.

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    1. Hi Marjorie! So glad you stopped by, and glad you like what you see. I'm feeling my way to a blog that makes sense (if you looked way back to the beginning a year ago you'd see me trying to figure out what to talk about). I've settle on books and writing, but not all kids' books--tomorrow and Friday are adult fiction, and I promise a story for Saturday!

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  8. Hi, Rebecca, I just hopped in to see you and view your blog on my way to other A to Z'ers. Very well written posts. I especially enjoyed the review. Haven't read many children's books lately, except to my great grands. :) I'm a retired elementary school librarian. Best regards to you. Ruby

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    1. Hi Ruby! Thanks for stopping by, and for the kind words. An elementary school librarian. . . You're a rare creature around these parts.

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  9. Hi, Rebecca. Stopping by from beachboundbooks.com as I hop around the KidLitBlogHop. Great review of Scat. I really enjoyed your insight.

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  10. Thank you for the great review! It sounds like an interesting but complex plot. What age recommendations would you make for this book?

    Thanks for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop! Please check out our upcoming Kid Lit Giveaway Hop - sign-ups are now OPEN! Best, Renee

    http://motherdaughterbookreviews.com/kid-lit-giveaway-hop-sign-ups-open/

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    1. Thanks, Renee. I plan to sign up this afternoon.

      As for age. . . I said upper middle grade, so I guess I'm thinking maybe 11 up?

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