September 2005

Something stinks in the Florida Keys

By Carl Hiaasen
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When imagining an act of heroism, a toilet typically doesn't come to mind. However, in a Carl Hiaasen story, when commodes help save the day, it makes perfect and hilarious sense.

Flush, Hiaasen's second book for young readers (the first, 2002's Hoot, garnered a Newbery Honor) includes the author's trademark mix of environmentalism, healthy skepticism of authority figures and a paradisiacal Florida Keys setting. Unfortunately, the area's wonderfully clean air and sparkly blue waters are turning stinky and murky, due to the local casino-boat owner's nasty habit of secretly, illegally emptying the boat's sewage tanks into the ocean.

That's where our hero, young Noah Underwood, comes in. His father, Paine—an irrepressible sort with good intentions and a not-so-good handle on his temper—sank the casino boat, the Coral Queen, to protest the owner's unsavory actions. Paine's protest landed him in the county jail, and he won't let Noah's mom bail him out until he feels he's made his point, and maybe done a couple of television interviews. Of course, Noah's mom is hardly thrilled, and although she loves Paine, she is mightily tired of the upheaval created by his penchant for dramatics.

Noah and his younger sister Abbey (named after conservationist/writer Edward Abbey) hatch a daring, dangerous plan to prove their dad right and save their parents' marriage—all while avoiding the wrath of a persistent pair of neighborhood bullies, keeping their actions a secret from their mother and trying to figure out the identity of an old pirate-guy who keeps emerging from the woods to rescue them.

Fans of Hiaasen's will be delighted by Flush: good guys Noah and Abbey, plus a couple of kooky-but-kind accomplices named Lice (a sometime-drunk) and Shelly (his sometime-girlfriend and a bartender on the casino boat), take on the bad guys in a comedic, cleverly described conflict that builds to a wild, and wildly satisfying, finish.

Along the way, Hiaasen neatly mixes tension and humor. Will Noah be all right after he crashes into something large and alive during a frantic swim through the dirty water? (Sure he will; it was only a sleeping manatee.) Will good triumph over evil? (Come on, it's not going to be that easy.) As he has in previous works for adults and kids alike, Hiaasen manages to be emphatic but not heavy-handed with his messages, whether urging kindness to the earth, or reminding readers that tolerance of loved ones' foibles is something to strive for (though it's all right, of course, to be miffed at lawbreakers). Fans of Hoot will likely feel Flush is worth the three-year wait: after all, it's got appealingly nutty characters, a colorful beachy setting and plenty of guffaw-inspiring goings-on. And just think how great this book will look on your bathroom bookshelf!

Linda Castellitto writes from Rhode Island, where there are no manatees but plenty of quahogs.

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By Carl Hiaasen
ISBN 9780375821820

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