22 March 2010

A Tall Order

Back in 2006, I wrote how Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot and Flush relied on flat portrayals of environmental conflicts featuring stereotypical bad guys. (The good guys are fresher and more rounded.)

Specifically, I wrote:

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?
Both those books provide a black-and-white choice with little hint of the sacrifice of short-term convenience for long-term benefits that environmental preservation often requires.

I thought Operation Redwood, by S. Terrell French, might be the sort of book I was looking for. A précis told me that the young hero, Julian, discovers that his uncle is the focus of protests aimed at preserving a stand of redwood trees. Are family loyalty and lifestyle at odds with environmental preservation?

But it turns out that Julian’s Uncle Sibley is a thoroughly dislikable person, an obvious antagonist from chapter 1. In fact, the book establishes him as nasty even before redwoods come into the story. It ends up portraying environmental preservation as a handy way of getting back at your relative for saying bad things about you.

Still looking for a middle-grade caper that dares to acknowledge the trade-offs of environmental preservation, and make them part of a young protagonist’s character growth.

1 comment:

Parenthetical Sam said...

I wish I had a suggestion for you, but in the absence of that I'll just say yes yes yes! I want books like that, too.

Science fiction does a bit better with this sometimes (Scott Westerfeld's Uglies at least touches on this grey area), but I haven't seen any environmentalist realism that isn't black-and-white.