2009, Alfred A. Knopf
Children’s Middle Reader (371 pages)
Scat is Carl Hiaasen’s third young readers book, after his first (a Newberry Award Winner) Hoot, and then Flush. This is the first of his books I have read, my nine year old has read all three. When asked, she maintains that she has no preference, she enjoys them all. Without asking, she’ll tell you at least three things the books have in common: all are set in Florida, all revolve around an environmental issue, and all have at least one male protagonist with a father in a difficult situation.
In Scat, the story is set in Florida, and concerns–well, you are not entirely sure what. The jacket pitches a straight-forward mystery, an unlovable teacher goes missing. Hiaasen interweaves more layers into his narrative; a narrative limited by a few choice characters, but primarily Nick Waters.
As for characters, it is evident right away that Hiaasen introduces stock characters to create almost humorous, certainly sarcastic, cliches. And then I had to ask myself, and my husband, if a young reader would identify the characters as cliche. So I grilled the daughter about the ‘stock-ness’ of the characters; to identify them elsewhere (in other forms, by other names). Apparently some children will note the cliche; which is a good thing. What Hiaasen does, is present the character, and then slowly unravel their exteriors, showing the complications, and the histories that play into the story’s present action/conflict. Every character requires a second and third look, at least, introducing the critical eye, and a compassionate voice. The only character to remain flat is the “corporation.”
The book moves, which is important for collecting and positioning all the information and characters introduced throughout. And as complicated as the story becomes, it is not so complicated as an adult’s version would be, nor as violent.
While the daughter was reading the book aloud, we had come upon an act of environmental activism. This provided good opportunity to discuss the actions and lengths protests can take, and where is the line? What circumstances require extreme action? is a question the book explores: War, injury, betrayal, illegal environmental acts, cruelty…some themes more veiled than others. And at what cost? is not neglected either.
Concerning the environmental protection activism, before the book had a chance to reference Edward Abbey and monkey-wrenching, it came to mind. One of the characters is a fan, and by book end, there is encouragement for more to explore Abbey’s ideas presented in his fictional work, The Monkey Wrench Gang. It appears the author wouldn’t mind the up and coming to read Edward Abbey. In light of the discussion on “extremism” Abbey’s work has a place in the discussion that Scat is working through–on a middle reader’s level.
The book is entertaining, the mystery elusive (until it becomes secondary to looking for other conflicts’ resolutions).
I think Hiaasen’s books add to the interesting and expanding field of EcoCriticism. That these books are popular and well-marketed to their audience is worth parental awareness and their participation.