I don’t really know where to start with Hoot. First off, I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be for middle schoolers, but the reading level came off more as third or fourth grade for me. Unfortunately, the content matter did not. There was some swearing, bullying, and inappropriate behavior that I wouldn’t want my younger kids reading.
First, I’ll give you a summary. Roy Eberhardt is a middle school student whose family has recently moved to a small town in southern Florida from Montana. His father works for the Department of Justice, and they’ve had to move often because of that job. Roy wasn’t particularly happy with this new move as he loved Montana. He struggles to make friends, and he is bullied mercilessly by a larger kid on his bus.
Eventually, Roy learns that a chain breakfast restaurant is about to build a new location over the burrows of endangered owls. He, along with two new friends, does everything he can to stop what would essentially be the slaughter of the protected species and reveal the restaurant’s cover-up of the crime.
Here’s what I liked: This book is very well written. It tells the story well, and Hiaasen gives depth and realism to his characters. Roy is a pretty responsible kid. He understands a lot about how the real world works - which is a trait that is often unfairly withheld from characters in his age demographic. Middle schoolers obviously don’t know everything, but they usually understand much more than many writers and adults assume. I appreciate how Roy is portrayed.
Here’s what I don’t like: Though well written, I think this book is too simple for a middle schooler. Like I mentioned earlier, this book could easily be read and understood by a third or fourth grader. However, I don’t want my third or fourth grader reading swear words, no matter how “mild” or infrequent (I only noted two uses). I also thought the bullying got a little intense for a younger child. Several times, Roy is hurt and almost knocked unconscious by the bully. Third, though Roy is usually responsible and is a good kid, he does dumb middle school boy things that I wouldn’t want younger kids thinking is appropriate - like mooning someone. Lastly, I didn’t like how much Roy lies to or withholds information from his parents. I get that kids do that, but, as a parent, that is unacceptable to me. I don’t want my kids having an example that justifies lying to parents - because that is exactly what this book does. Roy holds back information, and he explains why he couldn’t tell his parents whatever it was, and it makes sense. An older kid might understand why they should still tell their parents about their problems, but a little kid would just see that sometimes it’s ok to lie to your parents. And I’m not ok with that.
Overall: I would feel comfortable letting a twelve- or thirteen-year-old read this book but no younger. It takes a great approach to problem-solving as Roy tries to figure out how to save the owls without breaking the law. It tells the story in a realistic way that brings Roy and his friends to life. It doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable topics like bullying or parental abuse and neglect - not Roy’s parents. His are great and support their son and care about him. Overall, I liked it a lot, but it’s definitely not for younger kids.