September 16, 2002 12:00 PM

Carl Hiaasen

Roy is the new kid in school. He has the usual trouble making friends and avoiding the class bully. But since this school is located smack in the middle of Hiaasen’s Florida suburbs, Roy also has hassles with baby alligators lurking in port-o-Johns, venomous snakes with sparkly blue tails and the trigger-happy construction supervisor of a local pancake chain whose expansion threatens a family of endangered owls.

Hiaasen, as any mystery fan knows, is the frenetic prankster behind such comic capers as Striptease. This is his first book for young adults, and he makes the transition smoothly, though without quite enough verve. With a simplified plot, less cynical heroes and zero cussing or sex, Hoot is almost square—like The Hardy Boys with better jokes. There is plenty of suspense and subversive humor to engage youngsters, plus worthy lessons about personal and civic responsibility. Still, sophisticated kids—and certainly adults—should seek out the unadulterated pleasures of Hiaasen’s grownup novels. (Knopf, $15.95)

Bottom Line: Clever kid caper

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