23 August 2006

Watered-down Farce in Flush

Of all the successful adult novelists who've taken up writing children's books in recent years, Carl Hiaasen has had the most additional success: bestsellers plus a Newbery Honor for Hoot. I thought that the elements which made his adult comic thrillers work--off-kilter characters, humor, farcical plots--would translate well for kids, and indeed gain more respect than they command in the world of adult literature.

But I found Hoot to be a bit disappointing. Its plotting didn't differ much from what other children's writers have been offering for a long time. As for Hiaasen's latest kids' novel, Flush, it's more realistic, more emotionally grounded--and even a little bit less enjoyable for me. In shifting to a first-person point of view (instead of one that jumps among characters as needed, section to section), Hiaasen seems to have given up even more of the potential for farce.

Hoot takes Hiaasen's usual colorful Florida characters and setting, adds young protagonists, hides the sex and the worst of the violence, and lets us all learn a valuable lesson about protecting the natural environment. Flush does much the same--plus we learn a valuable lesson about sticking together as a family.

I like the natural environment. I like my family. But the earnestness with which Flush assured me those were good things got a little wearisome. These books are well-written, to be sure, but they didn't surprise or excite me or make me think in new directions.

Come on, Carl--how about the story of one of those stupid bullies instead of one with stupid bullies pestering the admirable young protagonist? How about a protagonist who realizes that preserving part of the natural world means sacrificing something he (or she) wants, instead of something the cigar-smoking adult villain wants?

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