Book Review: Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

Book Review: Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

Hoot.pngHoot by Carl Hiaasen is a must-read 2003 Newbery Honor Book. It follows the story of Roy Eberhardt, the new kid in school who has just moved to Florida. He’s picked on by bullies and hates the heat. But when one day he sees a boy about his age running out the bus window, Roy’s life changes. The boy is not wearing any shoes, not carrying a backpack and not carrying books. Who is this boy?

When strange things start occuring on a new pancake house’s construction site, the whole town is interested. Alligators show up in the porta-potties. Snakes start slithering around. Stakes are moved. Seats removed from heavy equipment. What is going on?

Roy eventually catches up with “the running boy” and learns the pancake house is about to be constructed on top of a protected owl species who burrows in the ground. And the running boy is the only one doing anything about it. Roy, wanting to help both the boy and the owl, gets involved and discovers the Environmental Impact Study done by the pancake house is missing from the courthouse, and the pancake house claims no owls live there.

When the dedication ceremony day arrives for the pancake house, Roy hatches a plan. He enlists the help of his school friends, and they form a protest. The running boy buries himself in a owl burrow, and when an owl lands on his head, no one can deny owls live there.

The theme of the book is stated nicely by Roy’s mother: “Sometimes you’re going to be faced with situations where the line isn’t clear between what’s right and what’s wrong. Your heart will tell you to do one thing, and your brain will tell you to do something different. In the end, all that’s left is to look at both sides and go with your best judgment.”

Great theme of standing up for what’s right even when others say you’re wrong, fighting authority when authority is wrong, and following what your heart says to do. Excellent book. Laugh-out-loud funny (like when Roy comments how adults lie to make themselves look more important). Easy to read and a quick pace. And who doesn’t love owls?

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Surviving the Applewhites

Image result for surviving the applewhitesAnother gem from the Newbery Honor books, Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie Tolan is an entertaining, funny novel about a delinquent boy who, having been kicked out of school, is forced to be homeschooled by the Applewhite family, themselves an eclectic bunch of misfits.  In fact, there are so many characters that in the beginning it’s hard to keep them all straight!

Destiny, the youngest Applewhite, is 4 years old and ends up idolizing Jake Semple, the delinquent boy, along with the basset hound, Winston.  Both are attached to Jake’s hip despite his disapproval.  E.D, the closest to Jake’s age and the one put in charge of helping him in his education, is the only normal Applewhite.  Studious and industrious, she loves learning and doing the right thing.  Her mother is a successful writer.  Her father a successful director.  Her brother, Hal, is a recluse and never leaves his room except in the middle of the night to eat.  Her sister, Cordelia, is a composer and choreographer.  Her grandpa and uncle make furniture.  Her aunt is a poet.

When her father’s current production of the Sound of Music loses its stage, the Applewhites come together and use their talents to save the play by hosting the play in their barn.  E.D. becomes the stage manager.  Her grandpa and uncle make the stage.  Her brother Hal leaves his room to paint.  Destiny and Jake both are cast in the play and Jake begins to realize he has talent as well.  Her mother and aunt make the costumes.

Throw in a zany wanna-be-film-director and an Indian chef (“passion is necessary to all of life”) along with colorful characters from the small North Carolina town and you have a delightful tale sure to delight and entertain.  The character arc of both E.D. and Jake are great with both learning life lessons, discovering what life is about and what gives them job, and learning how all things are possible.  Highly recommended.  Great for kids of all ages (there’s no love interest or any talk of attraction).  Awesome book showing a family coming together in times of crisis.  Purely a joy to read!

The Heart Forger

Image result for the heart forgerThe sequel to The Bone Witch, The Heart Forger by Rin Chupeco, picks up right where we left Tea, the girl who is one of two Bone Witches in the Eight Kingdoms.  Feared and disliked for her ability to raise the dead, Tea finds herself raising King Vanor in an attempt to find her mentor, Mykaela’s heartsglass which gives her her powers.

Tea finds herself caught up in power struggle after power struggle as she faces down the Faceless (i.e. bad guys) and finds herself allying with the Heart Forger in order to cure a sleeping sickness that has infected royalty across the Kingdoms.  She travels to Daanoris, a place that has banned magic, and is a virtual prisoner as she and her friends attempt to find the Heart Forger and the cure.

Ancient hostilities arise and hidden plots that involve the murder of a king drive the plot as Tea is forced to use dark magic (forbidden to use) in order to defeat the Dark Ones.  Judged and banished, her and her lover, Kalen, strike out on their own with her loyal daeva, Azi (picture a flying dragon).  “Don’t let me become a monster,” she says to Kalen.

“Life isn’t fair.  But you live with it and accept it.  There isn’t much to complain when there is little you can do.”

“When it comes to matters of the heart, nearly anything is possible.”

Great read in the same vein as The Bone Witch.  The part in the middle where Tea is in Daanoris gets a bit tedious as we have new characters and a new plot to develop, but overall worth your time!

The Bone Witch

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco is a young adult fantasy novel about a girl who realizes she has special powers when she accidentally raises her dead brother from the grave.

And so sparks a journey as we follow Tea in her new life.  She is recognized as a dark asha (otherwise known as bone witch).  These are few and far between in this kingdom.  She is taken in to be trained, leaving all of her family behind except her recently-resurrected brother.  He and Tea are linked, and he needs her to survive.  When she dies, he does as well.

A dark asha’s main job is to raise and put down daeva, monsters that wreck havoc if left unchecked and must every few years  to through this process before they rise on their own.  Asha also entertain nobility, serve as bodyguards and are good fighters, and wield magic helpful to the kings.

There are various kingdoms, which currently are at peace and those who wish to wield more power known as the Faceless who remain hidden.  An unknown Faceless has raised a daeva dragon.  Tea’s teacher is too ill to put the daeva down so Tea must do so herself with a little under 2 years of training.  She knows she can die, but she cannot allow other innocents to die either.

“Duty means doing something not because you like it but because you’re supposed to,” Tea’s brother, Fox, tells her.

“Everyone is a puzzle made of interlocking tiles you must piece together to form a picture of their souls.”

“Always strive to do the unexpected.”

Great read.  Very stock in terms of good guys,  bad guys, love interests, and growing up themes.  Two stories are being told at once:  Tea is narrating her story to a storyteller while she is in exile on the Sea of Skulls.  Fascinating perspective.  Great details.  Fun!

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

Image result for lizzie brightLizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary Schmidt is on the surface a typical new kid on the block book.  Turner Buckminster has just moved from Boston to the small community of Phippsburg, Maine in 1911.  His father has taken a job as the local pastor.  Turner immediately gets into trouble and trouble keeps finding him.  He accidentally skips a rock into a neighbor’s fence.  He’s caught with his pants down by this same neighbor as he tries to wash blood out of his pants so his parents won’t find out.  And he visits Malaga Island, a place where African-Americans live, and befriends a girl named Lizzie Bright Griffin.

The community wants all the island inhabitants to move so they can build a resort on the island.  And they are giving the residents no choice.  Turner becomes good friends with Lizzie and Turner’s father is beginning to tire of the town trying to force him to side with them.  He’s “somewhere between two worlds and drowning because he couldn’t find his way in either one.”

Turner inherits a house in the town and wants to give it to Lizzie.  The community is in an uproar.  They force the inhabitants to leave and burn their houses down.  Turner, distraught, attacks the sheriff of the town.  His father comes to his defense but in the struggle takes a bad fall off a cliff.  Lizzie has moved away and Turner is left reeling.  Can the soul of a whale help?

Great story with twists at the end I would have never predicted.  Laugh-out-loud funny as Turner finds himself always in predicaments that land him in trouble. “Maybe it wasn’t such a terrible thing to be a dang fool sometimes.  Maybe, he thought, it was just what you were supposed to be.”  Touching story of a forbidden friendship.  Powerful tale of doing what’s right when the rest of society says no.  “Who knows where these ideas will take us.  But wouldn’t it be exciting to find out.”

Newbery Honor Book for 2005.  You won’t want to miss this one!  Highly recommended.  Great historical novel of racial divisions.  Themes are timeless.

The Art of Racing in the Rain

Image result for art of racing in the rainThe Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is an excellent, quick read that’s not your everyday dog-book.

Told from the point of view of Enzo, a terrier mix, Enzo tells the story of his life and his owner, Denny.  Denny is a struggling race car driver.  Typical story.  He falls in love, gets married, has a child.  But what Enzo knows and no one else does is Eve, Denny’s wife, is sick.  She has cancer and has an inkling something is wrong but is in denial.

Eve takes a fall and in the hospital her disease is discovered.  Given only 6-8 months to live, Eve is taken care of by her parents who have the financial means to care for her.  Her daughter, Zoe, lives with them as well while Denny continues to travel and race.

When Eve passes, her parents fight for custody for Zoe.  Denny is falsely accused of rape and the custody battle begins.

However, this is the framework for the story.  The real story is Enzo and his insights into humanity.  He is convinced when he passes he’ll come back as a human.  He absorbs racing mantras from the greats such as:  “That which you manifest is before you.”  “Our successes and failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves.” “The physicality of our world is a boundary to us only if our will is weak; a true champion can accomplish things that a normal person would think impossible.”

“Any problems that may occur have ultimately been caused by you, because you are responsible for where you are and what you are doing there.”

“The true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles in order to triumph.”

“The one who drives smart will always win in the end.”

“I was not killed because I was not finished.  I still had work to do.”

“There is no dishonor in losing the race.  There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose.”

“Can we not will ourselves to achieve the impossible?”

“My soul has learned what it came to learn.  We can’t have everything we want.  Sometimes, we simply have to believe.”

I don’t usually recommend books where the animals die at the end, but the ending to this book is joyous.  I’m not promising you’re not gonna cry (I was sad), but the book is so full of hope and ends on such a positive note you definitely won’t regret reading this book!  Full of wisdom and great themes of standing up for what’s right, not giving into pressure, and living each day to the fullest.  You don’t want to miss this book!

Savvy

Image result for savvyA Newbery Honor Winner for 2009, Savvy by Ingrid Law is the tale of a family who have amazing abilities and have to learn to control them.

Upon turning 13, every Beaumont gets a savvy, a special ability.  Mibs is sure her savvy can wake things (including people up).  Just in time because her father was just involved in a car accident, leaving him unconscious in the hospital.  Convinced she can wake him up, Mibs hitches a ride on a bus along with her brothers and two friends, Will and Bobbi.

Upon being discovered, they convince the driver, Lester, to take them to Salina to the hospital–AFTER he finishes his deliveries of bibles.  This leads to one chaotic adventure after another as all the Beaumonts struggle to control (and figure out) their savvy’s.  It turns out Mib’s savvy is not waking things up but hearing ink (tattoos and such) reveal others’ thoughts.  Overwhelmed at times, Mibs causes a ruckus that leads to punches between Will and her brother, Fish, who can control the weather and a scene in a diner where they pick up another hitch-hiker named Lill.

Finally arriving in Salina with a police escort, Mibs is convinced she can still wake up her dad–and she does.  By telling him he never gives up and he has to wake up.  Her dad is not the same–severe head injury has left him with memory problems–but Mibs learns about family, love, being a teenager, and being happy with the life she has.  “When life takes a turn and you can’t step back…all you can do is keep moving forward and remember what you’ve learned” because “the outcome of a choice is almost as hard to predict or to control as a new savvy.”

“You never can tell when a bad thing might make a good thing happen.”

Great coming-of-age tale with tons of action and adventure from the heart.  Life lessons for kids who have great hearts, but still have a lot to learn.  Fantastic tale about your lot in life, accepting it, and finding contentment in it.  Highly recommended!