Sunday, January 25, 2009

Scat by Carl Hiaasen

What kid hasn’t wondered how life would change if a certain teacher would just disappear? Especially if that teacher is like Bunny Starch? Mrs. Starch humiliates Duane Scrod Jr. (a.k.a. “Smoke”) in class, assigning him a five hundred word essay on pimples. His pimples. Her relentlessness made me, as a teacher, uncomfortable to say the least. It’ll make kids flat-out furious. Smoke can only take so much, so as Mrs. Starch points at him accusingly with her #2 Ticonderoga, he calmly takes a chunk out of it. With his teeth. Bites half off, right out of her hand, chews it up, and swallows. Splinters, graphite, the whole works.

And the next day during a field trip to Black Vine Swamp, 1) She disappears. 2) A wildfire happens to start. 3) The kid nicknamed Smoke, with a history of starting fires who recently threatened the now disappeared teacher, wasn’t with the class.

It’s hard not to compare Scat with Carl Hiaasen’s other two novels for younger readers, Hoot and Flush. They’re all similar – set in Florida, money grubbing antagonists, middle/high school protagonists a little braver/wiser/upright that the average adolescent, and strong environmental themes. Scat adds another layer with the war in Iraq.

Scat grabs readers’ attention with the first line. “The day before Mrs. Starch vanished, her third-period biology students trudged silently, as always, into the classroom.” The teacher vanished? Like, poof, and she’s gone? By the end of the chapter, readers see how that might possibly be a good thing.

While more mystery than comedy, Scat still contains plenty of humor. An oil worker gets glued to a cypress tree, painted orange, sans clothing. Wendell Waxmo, substitute biology teacher, always teaches page 117 on Monday and 263 on Fridays, no exceptions, regardless of the subject matter. There’s plenty of funny, most enjoyably, how the antagonists finally get what’s coming.

Scat has much more mystery than the other books. Where is Mrs. Starch? Why is her car still traveling around town with mysterious drivers? If she’s gone, how is she sending mail and changing her voice mail greeting? If she has no family, how can she claim a family emergency?

Main character Nick’s father, an Army reservist serving in Iraq, is injured in a Humvee attack and loses his right arm. Nick not only has been pulled into the Mrs. Starch mystery – now including endangered panthers and an oil company – but also tries to learn more about his father’s injury by trying to do everything with only one arm.

Scat is a totally engaging novel, one that will get and hold readers’ attention, beginning to end. Readers want to fight for what’s right, defend the environment, stop greed, support their families, aid their friends, all of them right along with the main characters. Readers will also realize the danger in too quickly judging those around them.

2 comments:

Hannah Montana said...

My class read the book Hoot while I read Flush. I finished Flush before my class finished Hoot so I got to read the book Scat. I finished this on the weekend in two days after I bought it! This is one of my favorite books of all time now. Thank you Carl Hiaasen!!

Brian said...

Why, Ms. Montana, I'd no idea you were an elementary school teacher! I am, however, delighted with your impeccable taste in literature.

Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the comment.

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