Hiaasen comes through with another great yarn

During the long drive to Sioux Narrows, Ontario, I was able to finish Carl Hiaasen’s “Scat.” As many of his other works, this one was perfect for young adult readers, but I love his wry sensibilities. His love for the Florida Everglades is once again evident in the storyline.

The story begins at Truman School. Young Nick Waters is suffering through another biology class taught by ultra-strict Mrs. Starch. She has singled out extreme underachiever Duane “Smoke” Scrod Jr. for ridicule. When Mrs. Starch points a pencil near his face, Duane bites into it, chews, and swallows. Mrs. Starch then gives him a humiliating assignment.

The next day all three biology classes are bused to Black Vine Swamp for an eco-outing. Nick is hoping to get a glimpse of the endangered Florida panther. As his group is eating their lunch, they hear an unearthly scream. Nick knows it is a panther and tries to film it moving through the brush, but their excursion is cut short when a sudden wildfire flares nearby.

The students are on the bus when Mrs. Starch goes back into the swamp to retrieve a girl’s inhaler. When she doesn’t show up for class the next day, the headmaster announces that she is taking time off for a “family emergency,” but everyone knows that she has no family.

No one really liked Mrs. Starch, but Nick and his friend Marta can’t help feeling worried. Something about this doesn’t add up.

Nick doesn’t need any more worries. His father’s National Guard unit had been deployed to Iraq. He usually emails every day, but they haven’t heard from him in days. To his horror, they are notified that he has been severely injured during an RPG attack, losing his right shoulder and arm.

Nick is determined to stand by his dad in his recovery, so he tapes his right arm to his body in order to learn how to function with only his left arm. At the same time, he and Marta spot Mrs. Starch’s car being driven by a man wearing a knit beanie.

With more guts than brains, they get inside and wait for the driver. His name is Twill and he’s an accomplished eco-warrior. He doesn’t tell them that he is quite wealthy and uses his resources to protect his beloved Everglades.

Eventually, they are taken deep into the swamp where they find Mrs. Starch caring for a tiny panther kitten. She got disoriented by the wildfire smoke and Twill brought her to his hidden camp. Twill explains that Diamond Energies has purchased a section of land next to the swamp but planned to drill for oil on refuge land.

The CEO believes that the government would pay them to not drill the oil and he’d make millions without actually doing any work. His assistant Jimmy Bayliss knows the man is an idiot, but the promise of big money is too tempting so he uses his expertise to set up the scam.

He knows that finding an endangered panther on the land would put a halt to their plans so when he sees the mother panther, he shoots to scare her away. Then he set the wildfire to keep the school kids from stumbling onto evidence of the panther or their drill site.

Sadly, the authorities think Duane Scrod set the fire because Bayliss uses the kid’s backpack to frame him. Now Duane is hiding out with Twill and Mrs. Starch as they try to reunite the cub with its mother. Along the way, Nick and Marta learn a whole lot about Duane’s difficult family life, Mrs. Starch’s painful history, the importance of each species in swamp, all while testing their own abilities.

The story is full of wonderful characters, clever mischief, and tricks to foil the oil company without actually harming anyone.

What are you willing to fight for? Your public library has shelves filled with books about courage, sacrifice and determination. Stop by soon and check it out.


Title: Scat

Author: Carl Hiaasen

Publisher: Yearling

Year published: 2012

Number of pages: 400