Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mainstream Author Highlight: Carl Hiasson

Carl Hiasson's ecologically-conscious teen mysteries do a great job of raising awareness about the environment and endangered animals. They also meet teens where they are at - stuck in a world where school is confusing and sometimes dangerous, family relationships are fragile, and teen personalities change like the weather.

Hoot is Hiasson's first book for young readers - and a Newbery Honor winner. It tells the story of Roy's recent move to Florida, and his attempt to make friends at school. When Roy stumbles upon a homeless boy who keeps poisonous snakes, and is threatened by the boy's sister, he never dreams they will become his friends. Soon, he is helping them with their plot to save burrowing owls from being illegally bulldozed by developers.

In Flush, Noah and his sister, Abbey, share their dad's passion for saving the ocean from illegal dumping of human waste. However, they wish their dad would choose legal means to express his passion. They worry their mother will divorce their dad if he keeps up his antics. In an effort to help, they meet an unlikely ally, and rediscover their long-lost grandfather.

Scat, my favorite of the three books, tells the story of Nick (who is waiting for his father to return from Iraq), his friend, Marta, and their eccentric and terrifying teacher, Mrs. Starch. We are also introduced to Duane Scrod Jr., a delinquent who is more complex than we first realize. Their adventures begin with a wildfire and the mysterious disappearance of Mrs. Starch, and end when the three teens and their teacher team up to save Florida's rare and endangered black panther.

What I Like: I found Hiasson's comments on the endangered species and water supply in Florida fascinating. He writes engaging mysteries, but his books all would naturally tie in to science lessons.

Hiasson accurately captures middle- and high school. His characters worry about making friends, being bullied, and whether their parents will get divorced, be imprisoned, or even make it home from Iraq safely. His main characters are also brave, and have a clear sense of right and wrong. They always strive to use legal means to help their cause, even if those around them aren't. They try to solve bullying with words (although they may resort to punches if the words don't work.)

I also love Hiasson's quirky, eccentric, and surprising characters. His books challenge us to think outside the box and do away with stereotypes. Although not all of the adults are portrayed as intelligent or trustworthy, the parents of all Hiasson's main characters truly love their kids and are trying their best to show it.

What I Dislike: I was very disappointed by Hiasson's choice of language. Although it is usually the more unsavory characters who are doing the swearing, they do say "damn" and variations of "ass" ("dumbass," "smart ass," "jackass"). I realize teens hear bad language at the grocery store, at school, and in movies, but it seems like reading bad language in some way legitimizes it. This also makes the books more appropriate for older readers, even though ages nine and up would enjoy the content. I wish he would have used more creative (and acceptable) language instead.

Also, there are a couple instances of bullying that include someone being taped to a flagpole in underwear (Hoot), and to a tree, naked (although deep in the Everglades, and only witnessed by two people, in Scat).

Overall Rating: Good due to language, but otherwise, very good

Age Appeal: Publisher lists 9-12, but the use of bad language seems more appropriate for older readers.

Publisher Info: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002, 2005, 2009; Paperbacks, 263-371 pages,

Buy Hoot now at Amazon.com for $6.99.

Buy Flush now at Amazon.com for $6.99.

Buy Scat at Amazon.com for $8.99.

Special Info: Scat has the least amount of poor language.

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Sarah said...

I'm happy to stumbleupon your blog. My son is 12 and really doesn't enjoy reading. I'm always looking for books he might enjoy. These look like something he might so We'll start with Scat. Thanks!

Kathy Cassel said...

We often listen to books on tape in the car when we travel. We'd just seen Hoot at the theater and I decided that would be good book for a car trip. Nope. Like you said, the language. And Jasmine was much younger so I didn't want her to hear it at all. I may read the books just for myself.

Erin said...

Thanks ladies, for your comments. I agree, Kathy--even though the books are great, I wouldn't want my 7-year-old listening to the tapes, either. But, the books would be easy enough to edit if you were reading them aloud.

And Sarah, you may want to check out our review of "Lost Island Smugglers." It is a great adventure for older boys who are reluctant readers.

Thanks for checking out CCBR. God Bless! Erin