Being the new kid in town means that Roy Eberhardt automatically has a bull's-eye painted on his back for Trace Middle School's stable of playground and bus bullies. When fighting back against one overweight assailant gets him kicked off the school bus for two weeks, newly outcast Roy falls in with a strange crowd of other outcasts - super-jock soccer player Beatrice Leep and her fleet-footed fugitive stepbrother, known to Roy only as Mullet Fingers. That teenaged truant lives in an abandoned ice cream truck and stalks the swamps around Coconut Cove, Florida, by night.
Meanwhile, Mother Paula's Pancake Houses has its own plans for the neighborhood: restaurant number four sixty-nine is slated to begin construction as soon as a vacant local lot can be scraped flat. Someone, however, has been pulling up the survey stakes every night to keep the bulldozers at bay. Mother Paula - or more accurately, Mother Paula, Inc., Vice President Chuck Muckle - is not amused. Construction foreman Curly Brannitt's been put on notice that construction will start on time, whether Curly's still in charge or not. And the local police are getting plenty of pressure from a "concerned" city councilman to make certain that the miscreants responsible for monkey wrenching the construction site are brought to justice.
Police stakeouts don't work, and a herd of Rotweilers doesn't get the job done either. Mullet Fingers and his stepsister are in for the long haul, and so is Roy when he learns the reason why the two are trying to protect a seemingly worthless patch of ground from a company that makes really, really yummy pancakes: a colony of tiny burrowing owls. Once Roy's met the cute little guys, he's hooked - and he makes it his personal mission to persuade as many people as possible to help him protect the funny-looking little guys.
But what chance does a trio of middle-schoolers have when they're up against America's largest pancake chain? You just might be surprised...
The Skink, Jr.?
In Hoot, his first foray into young adult fiction, Carl Hiaasen (Tourist Season, Lucky You, Sick Puppy) introduces a younger generation to his trademark goofy villains and fun-loving but reluctant heroes. Fans of Hiaasen's novels for grownups will surely recognize the character of Mullet Fingers as a juvenile version of the swamp-dwelling Skink, who appears in many of those novels. The younger woodsman has the same style and substance, here transplanted to the body of an adolescent boy. Key aspects of both Skink and Mullet Fingers are their abiding love for the vanishing wildlife and wilderness of Florida and their contempt for the corruption that aids urban sprawl in draining swamps to replace them with cookie-cutter houses and big-box stores. Neither "wild man" takes any prisoners when it comes to protecting the last vestiges of Florida from greedy developers and the crooked politicians in their hip pockets.
Hiaasen's also transplanted into Mullet Fingers the panache of the late(?), great George Hayduke, direct from Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang. Hayduke's here in spirit, complete with his own giant crescent wrench.
Though four decades removed from his own career as a middle-schooler, Hiaasen seems to remember well the trauma of encountering bullies, the difficulty of making new friends, and the pure joy of finding your own "special place." He's drawn a set of characters that every adolescent will recognize and immediately want to have for friends - except, of course, for those cigarette-smoking bullies.
Best suited for middle-schoolers, mainly boys, although the presence of a tough girl character will also interest your tomboy daughter. A single use of the word "badass"; no drinking, drugs, sex, or violence. Traditionalists beware, however, the toughest character in the book is a girl!