Hoot by Carl Hiaasen (J)

Hoot

Hoot

Carl Hiaasen (Juvenile Fiction)

It’s tough always being “the new kid”.  It’s even tougher when there is a bully involved, but the day that Dana Matherson mashed Roy Eberhardt’s face against the school bus window was perhaps the greatest stroke of luck since Alexander Graham Bell spilled acid on his leg.  For it was at that exact moment that Roy saw the mysterious running boy bolting past the bus.  He was wearing no shoes and carrying no backpack or books.  What was he running from?  Where was he going?  And why wasn’t he wearing any shoes?  Turns out, that wasn’t the only mystery in the sleepy little town of Coconut Cove, Florida.  Someone is trying to prevent the newest Mother Paula’s All-American Pancake House from being built.  Between burrowing owls, alligators, sparkly-tailed snakes, fake farts, and nightly pranks, perhaps Coconut Cove isn’t so sleepy after all.

Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot was awarded a Newbery Honor in 2003.  He gives us two mysteries in one: a strange running boy and a vandal thwarting the efforts of a big-time corporation.  The story is witty, fast-paced, and full of heart.  Our hero, Roy, is likeable and full of moxie.  For a kid who just wants to get through the school day unnoticed, he makes it a point to stand out from the crowd.  From taking on the school bully to striking up an unusual friendship with Beatrice Leep, an elite soccer star, Roy quickly makes a name for himself and becomes the unlikeliest of heroes.

Hoot is more than just a story about friendship and courage.  It is a David-versus-Goliath story as environmentalism goes head-to-head with capitalism.  It’s burrowing owls against big bucks and a group of average kids willing to go to great lengths in order to protect something far more valuable than a building or a brand.  In addition, we are introduced to a rather unseemly group of adults: an opportunistic officer, a nasty vice-principal, crooked politicians, a vile stepmother, greedy corporate heads, and so on.  Luckily, there are a few adults in the book who haven’t sold their soul to the devil, but the spotlight is really on Roy, Beatrice, and our mysterious running boy, which proves that good things do come in small packages.

American writer and poet Suzy Kassem wrote, “Stand up for what is right, even if you stand alone.”  Carl Hiaasen gives readers a story about defending the weakest among us—the helpless and vulnerable who either lack the voice to speak up or the courage to stand up.  He provides instances showing people doing good in order to curry favor or to get ahead, but it’s the instances where good is done simply because it is the right thing to do that proves to be the truest measure of a person.  Hiaasen illustrates this through a new kid, a mysterious running boy, and a soccer star—three unlikely friends who wouldn’t give up despite the odds and showed that every life is precious and worth preserving.  That, dear friends, is something we should all give a hoot about.

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.target.com

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Best. State. Ever. A Florida Man Defends His Homeland by Dave Barry

Best State Ever

Best. State. Ever. A Florida Man Defends His Homeland

Dave Barry (Adult Non-Fiction)

Poor Florida.  A state that has become synonymous with all things weird, daft, looney, loco, nutty, and just plain one-beer-short-of-a-six-pack crazy.  Don’t believe me?  Just Google “Florida Man” along with your birth month and day and ten times out of ten (or REALLY close to it), a corresponding headline will pop up.  For example, on my birthday, this made the headlines: “Naked Florida man breaks into home, tries on woman’s clothes, police say”.  See?  Well let me tell you something.  Dave Barry is S-I-C-K of people wrongfully labeling his beloved state and he’s set out to defend the good name of his hometown by showing us the lighter and brighter (and not necessarily saner) side of “The Sunshine State”.  So, buckle up because you’re in for an interesting and unforgettable ride!

According to Cosmopolitan magazine, women are attracted to guys with a sense of humor.  If that’s the case, then Dave Barry is one of the sexiest men alive.  With Best. State. Ever. A Florida Man Defends His Homeland, Barry gives us Fodor’s on laughing gas.  His book contains countless (truly) laugh-out-loud moments that makes reading in public a somewhat perilous undertaking…unless you love awkward moments and getting suspicious side glances from complete strangers.  Barry lovingly introduces us to real-life, overlooked treasures and he does so with the warmth, adoration, and pride as a parent would present his first-born to the world.  Through wit and black and white photos, we meet Dave Shealy, operator of Skunk-Ape Research Headquarters in Ochopee; we delight in watching mermaids eat underwater (they get hungry, you know) and waving an American flag at Weeki Wachee Springs; and we get to know more than we ever thought imaginable at the Spongeorama in Tarpon Springs.  Using a Florida Tourist Attraction rating system of Out-of-Order Mold-A-Matics, Barry ranks these unsung heroes on a scale from one to five (five being the BEST…and he even rates one attraction a six, but you have to read the book to discover this hidden gem) and offers valuable insights that only a native can appreciate and share.

Read Best. State. Ever. and I promise (or at least hope) that you’ll laugh, you’ll cry (from laughing), and you’ll probably Google “Florida Man” and your birthday as soon as you finish reading this review.  But mostly, you’ll have fun gaining a whole new perspective and appreciation for a state that was not only known as the birthplace of the “hanging chad”, but is also chockful of anything and everything that is weird, daft, looney, loco, nutty, and just plain one-beer-short-of-a-six-pack crazy.

(Reviewer’s Note: If you love the gloriously quirky, kitschy, and sometimes tacky roadside attractions that are a part of our unique culture, then I highly recommend you continue your journey with Betsy Carter’s book entitled Swim to Me about the mermaids of Weeki Wachee.  I think Dave would approve.)

Rating: 5/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.penguinrandomhouse.com

Tangerine by Edward Bloor (YA)

Tangerine

Tangerine

Edward Bloor (Young Adult Fiction)

The Fisher family—Dad, Mom, and sons Erik and Paul—are moving from Texas to Florida.  Their new home is in the prestigious Lake Windsor Downs subdivision located in Tangerine County.  Despite their new location, the family continues to move forward with the Erik Fisher Football Dream…dad’s favorite topic.  However, no such dream exists for Paul whose IEP lists him as legally blind.  But you don’t have to be blind to see all the strange things happening in Tangerine: the never-ending muck fires, disappearing koi, a giant school-swallowing sink hole, and lightning that strikes at the same time every day.  Things are definitely different in Tangerine and they’re about to get even more strange as Paul begins to piece together memories about a dark, family secret as fuzzy as his own eyesight.

I’m having a difficult time writing this review as the adult in me desperately wants to rip the title of “parent” from both Mr. and Mrs. Fisher.  In 1670, John Ray cited as a proverb, “Hell is paved with good intentions” and the Fisher parents embody this beautifully.  They have failed both of their sons dismally, and I can only hope that the audience this book was written for (young adults) realize this and understand the difference between parenting and passivity.  With that said, I shall cast aside my adultness and say that Tangerine does provide teens with some spot-on insights into the messy, harsh, and unforgiving world of middle and high school.  Edward Bloor gives us a story about the Haves and the Have Nots, where opportunity seems to favor those with money over those with moxie.  He shows us how a bunch of ragtag soccer players can be more of a family than your own kin.  And, he warns us of the danger of placing glory above goodness and confusing apathy with care.

Despite the flagrant shortcomings of some of the adults in this book, Bloor does give readers a modern-day hero in the likes of Paul Fisher—an underdog who pursues his dreams with relentless courage and moral conviction.  Never one to fall victim to his impairment, Paul proves himself to be a loyal, fearless, and worthy friend and shows everyone in Tangerine—including his own family—that he is more than just the sum of his parts.  From an early age, Paul realizes that life is often unfair and cruel, but by living in Tangerine where lightning does in fact strike twice, he understands that anything is possible and that even a kid labeled as legally blind can still see the good in people.

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

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The Canning Season by Polly Horvath (YA)

The Canning Season

The Canning Season     

Polly Horvath (Young Adult Fiction)

Thirteen-year old Ratchet Clark (her father wanted to name her Stinko) lives with her mother, Henriette, who dreams of belonging to the Pensacola Hunt Club (“Thank God for the Hunt Club” is the mantra in their household).  Henriette works two jobs, sustains the family on Cheerios, and constantly reminds her daughter to cover up That Thing on her shoulder (it is unsightly).  Life moves along at a predictable pace until the day that Henriette sends Ratchet to live with her two great aunts in Maine.  Tilly and Penpen Menuto (DON’T call them the Blueberry Ladies!) are twins, but as different as chalk and cheese.  Tilly is tiny and thin and Penpen is round and jolly, but both are as devoted to canning as they are to one another.  Between blueberries, bears, a one-way phone, an unexpected orphan, and countless stories of a headless mother, Ratchet’s summer will prove to be anything but predictable.

The Canning Season is a delightful, entertaining, and hilarious romp.  Fans of Philip Gulley or Ann B. Ross will find equal enjoyment in the Menuto sisters and their tales of loggers, love, and the lure of the woods.  Some of the language in this book is a bit salty, but is appropriate to the targeted age (13 and older) and shouldn’t shock anyone who watches PG-13 films or hangs out at the local mall.

Throughout the book, we see Henriette placing an unhealthy importance on belonging to the Pensacola Hunt Club, which remains an elusive aspiration.  We find out that the club really isn’t as exclusive as first thought and, in reality, is open to anyone wanting to join.  Drawing a nice parallel with Tilly and Penpen’s home, we see that the ominous house on the hill surrounded by bear-infested woods isn’t really what it appears to be either.  It is actually warm, welcoming, and inclusive; all who enter are taken care of and treated with respect, kindness, and love (except Myrtle Trout…Heaven help her).  The Canning Season reminds us that things are not often what they seem and that love is often found in the least likely of places.  Thank God for the Hunt Club, indeed.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.goodreads.com

 

Swim to Me by Betsy Carter

Swim to Me

Swim to Me  

Betsy Carter (Adult Fiction)

Delores Walker can vividly recall the moment her mother dropped her into the shallow end of a lake.  She was just two, but she remembers the water’s temperature, plunging into its depths, and struggling to resurface.  It was heaven.  Twelve years later, she travels to Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida with her mother and father.  It’s 1970 and the mermaids of Weeki Wachee perform a tribute to Apollo 11.  They spin, twirl, dive, and glide, and Delores is fascinated and enthralled by these amazing creatures in the water.  Now at sixteen, she boards a Greyhound bus to Florida with a suitcase, a handful of silver dollars, a letter from Weeki Wachee, and a dream of being a mermaid.

This book is a loving tribute to those wonderfully glorious quirky, kitschy, and sometimes tacky roadside attractions that are a part of our rich and unique history and culture.  I totally immersed myself in this novel and loved reading about these aquatic darlings and their lives both in and out of the tank.  Carter ensures a well-rounded story by giving equal attention to Delores; her struggling and self-absorbed mother, Gail; and her absentee and apathetic father, Roy.  By offering readers a deeper insight into each of these characters separately, we gain a clearer understanding of their own personal thoughts, feelings, and struggles.

More than a loving wink and nod to days gone by, Swim to Me is a book about endings and new beginnings; about not being defined or confined by your present situation; and about taking what’s given to you and making the absolute most of it.

Rating: 4/5

* Book cover image attributed to http://www.goodreads.com