, Carl Hiaasen's debut novel for younger readers is a very special treat indeed. The writing is exceptionally good, and the characters extremely quirky and well realised. It's incredibly readable despite a story premise that is not sparklingly original. But no matter, there's an engaging "feel-good" vibe running through the whole book.
The setting, as with Hiaasen's crime thrillers for adults such as Basket Case and Sick Puppy, is sunny Florida and the heat, swamps, dust and pancakes all contribute to the authentic atmosphere of the book. His favourite environmental theme is here too, as is the thoroughly watertight plotting. There's an engaging mystery set up on the very first page and it builds nicely with more twists and turns as the story unfolds--all of them reassuringly tied up come the final pages.
Roy Eberhardt's story begins when he is being mashed up against the window of the school bus by bully Dana Matherson. He spots an athletic bare-footed boy running away from the bus and wonders where he is going. Further investigations, after he has unwisely smashed Dana's nose in to get away from him, leads Roy into the middle of a battle between a green-minded local runaway and the proposed opening of a pancake restaurant. The development threatens the habitat of a burrowing-owl colony and it's an issue that several people in the community have differing views upon--not all of them legal.
Roy carries the story very well indeed. He's likable and persistent in the face of unexpected and challenging adventure, despite his modest size. The cause he chooses to support is eminently worthy--he weighs up the strength of his beliefs with the necessity to slightly bend the law. This is a good story with some great writing--a winning combination. (For readers aged 10 and over.) --John McLay
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From Publishers Weekly
With a Florida setting and proenvironment, antidevelopment message, Hiaasen (Sick Puppy) returns to familiar turf for his first novel for young readers. Characteristically quirky characters and comic twists will surely gain the author new fans, though their attention may wander during his narrative's intermittently protracted focus on several adults, among them a policeman and the manager of a construction site for a new franchise of a pancake restaurant chain. Both men are on a quest to discover who is sabotaging the site at night, including such pranks as uprooting survey stakes, spray-painting the police cruiser's windows while the officer sleeps within and filling the portable potties with alligators. The story's most intriguing character is the boy behind the mischief, a runaway on a mission to protect the miniature owls that live in burrows underneath the site. Roy, who has recently moved to Florida from Montana, befriends the homeless boy (nicknamed Mullet Fingers) and takes up his cause, as does the runaway's stepsister. Though readers will have few doubts about the success of the kids' campaign, several suspenseful scenes build to the denouement involving the sitcom-like unraveling of a muckity-muck at the pancake house. These, along with dollops of humor, help make the novel quite a hoot indeed. Ages 10-up.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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