|Juvenile burrowing owl|
|A not so juvenile burrowing owl|
"Look," said Roy, "every day we've been reading about regular people, ordinary Americans who made history 'cause they got up and fought for something they believed in. Okay, I know we're just talking about a few puny little owls, and I know everybody is crazy about Mother Paula's pancakes, but what's happening out there is just plain wrong. So wrong."
That's how Roy Eberhardt makes his impassioned plea to his classmates (in Hoot by Carl Hiassen) about saving these little guys you see pictured here. Roy doesn't normally talk so much, and most of the kids in his class don't really know him because Roy is the new kid. (His dad's job with the Department of Justice moves the family around a lot.) New kid or not, Roy can't stop worrying about the baby burrowing owls who will be trapped in their nests when the construction crews start up their bulldozers on a lot designated to get a new pancake house.
Roy is a middle-schooler with a lot on his plate. (Just, you know, no pancakes, because he's worried about those owls.) Roy misses living in Montana, and school is complicated. He IS the new kid. Again. There's a bully named Dana (sorry, Dad!), and a tough girl with serious biting power named Beatrice who may or may not be Roy's new friend. Beatrice has an oddly nicknamed brother who doesn't wear shoes, but is willing to pull some crazy stunts in order to protect the burrowing owls. Roy wants to save the owls, but he's uncomfortable with the extreme measures that Beatrice's brother is willing to take.
Hoot isn't an easy tale, but it's a really good one. (It was a Newbery Honor book in 2003 which means that librarians agree with me.) Hiassen is known for his over-the-top characters and his dedication to Florida's precious ecosystem. There's a certain amount of scorn apparent in most of his work for the institutions of Big Business and Government; that contempt blazes off of some of the pages of Hoot. I haven't read a Hiassen book, yet, that didn't make me laugh, but he doesn't offer easy answers or soft-pedal the reality of growing up*.
As Roy's mom says "Honey, sometimes you're going to be faced with situations where the line isn't clear between what's right and what's wrong. Your heart will tell you to do one thing, and your brain will tell you to do something different. In the end, all that's left is to look at both sides and go with your best judgment."
My best judgment on Hoot is to rate it as a PG-13 based on the illegal activities (both civil and corporate), the age of the characters, and the tough decisions that face Roy. I say this knowing full well that my oldest niece read this when she was eight or nine, so if your young reader is an advanced reader just know what s/he is getting into with Hoot.
*We'll revisit these themes tomorrow when I review Hiassen's Skinny Dip for The Family Addition.