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. Copyright 2005 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2006 Spring
In his second children's book, Hiaasen offers a great action adventure without any of the didacticism that crept into Hoot. He sets this eco-mystery in Florida and peoples it with crooks, idealists, everyday heroes, and oddball characters. While the plot offers enough twists and turns to satisfy even the most serious adventure junkies, it's the multidimensional characters who give the novel vitality. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2005 #5
In his second children's book, Hiaasen hits his stride, offering a great action adventure without a hint of the didacticism that crept into Hoot (rev. 11/02). As is his trademark, he sets this eco-mystery in Florida and peoples it with crooks (Dusty Muleman, who dumps sewage from his gambling boat into Florida's waters); idealists (Paine Underwood, who sinks Muleman's boat in an effort to call attention to the illegal waste disposal); everyday heroes (Noah and Abbey, Paine's children, who finally reveal Muleman's operation and validate their dad's noble gesture); and oddball characters (an old "pirate" who shows up throughout the story and a tattooed, hard-living card dealer). While the plot offers enough twists and turns to satisfy even the most serious adventure junkies, it is the multidimensional characters who give the novel its vitality. Hiaasen always shows rather than tells, and that showing creates individuals who are simultaneously noble and petty, quirky and realistic, decent and wayward. Copyright 2005 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2005 August #1
What's a kid to do when his dad's thrown in jail for an unsuccessful act of ecoterrorism? Why, do it better, of course. Readers first meet Noah Underwood in the visiting room of the Florida Keys jail where his father proudly waits for justice to be done to the owner of the Coral Queen, the casino boat that regularly and illegally dumps raw sewage into the bay. Hiaasen surrounds Noah with his usual cast of supporting characters: a stoic little sister, a hard-drinking bleached-blonde bartender with a heart of gold, various thuggish lowlifes and a mysterious figure who appears from the jungle to save the day. The whole here is rather less than the sum of its parts, as the plot takes some time to take off and Noah's first-person narration necessarily limits the loony heights (or depths) Hiaasen can attain in plumbing the psyches of his villains. But Noah's determination and sense of right comes straight from the author's heart, and readers will cheer as he and his cohorts scuttle once and for all the activities of the Coral Queen. (Fiction. 10+) Copyright Kirkus 2005 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection - February 2006
Noah and Abbey undertake daring adventures to try to help clear their father, Paine, when he sabotages a casino ship because it is dumping septic waste into the bay. Paine is an act first, think later activist for environmental issues. This king of irresponsible behavior has landed in jail more than once and seriously strained his marriage. There are many stories woven into the whole of this book, including family strife, a reappearing dead grandfather, bullying, abuse of alcohol, bad guys paying off officials, and environmental awareness based on the Floridian ecosystem. The story line drags on with many occasions in the reading seeming like the end is near only to have a new twist written in. The father shows growth in his control of his impulsiveness to a small degree. This story will interest young readers who are environmentally conscious and still buy into the clueless parents scenario. Recommended. Patricia J. Heasley, Librarian, Independence Middle School, Bethel Park, Pennsylvania Â© 2006 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2005 June #4
Hiaasen's (Hoot) action-packed mystery set in the Florida Keys offers a colorful cast of dastardly villains and eccentric heroes, along with his signature environmental themes. Noah would be the first to admit that his father, Paine Underwood, "sometimes goes too far" in his campaign to save the environment, especially when he single-handedly sinks the Coral Queen, a gambling boat that he believes has been dumping human waste just offshore. This feat leads to a jail sentence, and while Mr. Underwood is behind bars, it is up to Noah to prove that his father had good reason to put the floating casino out of action. Noah's mission-to catch owner Dusty Muleman "red-handed" as he drains his boat's sewage-is not an easy task. Dusty employs a burly watchman and has connections with the Coast Guard and the police. Yet Noah finds some unusual adversaries in Lice Peeking, Dusty's former employee, who is willing to testify against his ex-boss for a price; Shelly, Dusty's blond, buxom ex-girlfriend; and an unnamed "old pirate," who conveniently appears whenever Noah needs help out of a tight fix. While much of this adventure (including the identity of the "old pirate") is predictable, Hiaasen creates enough interesting plot twists to keep the pages turning. Budding environmentalists especially will delight in the ingenious way that Noah beats Dusty at his game. Ages 10-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2007 August #1
"Hiaasen's action-packed mystery set in the Florida Keys offers a colorful cast of dastardly villains and eccentric heroes, along with his signature environmental themes," wrote PW. Ages 10-up. (Aug.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2005 September
Gr 5-8 -Noah and his sister, Abbey, are more understanding of their volatile dad's latest arrest than their mother, who begins talking of divorce. Dad sank the Coral Queen , a casino boat on a Florida Key because, he alleges, its owner, Dusty Muleman, has been illegally dumping raw sewage into the local waters. Soon enough the kids begin trying to gather proof that will vindicate their father and put the casino out of business. The colorful cast includes a drunken lout named Lice who disappears before he can be persuaded to testify against Dusty, his former boss. His rough-around-the-edges girlfriend, Shelly, comes through, though, helping the siblings dump dye in the boat's holding tanks, which finally brings the matter to court. Dusty's son, Jasper, is a chip off the old block, threatening and beating Noah on several occasions until he and, later, Abbey are rescued by a mysterious stranger who turns out to be their grandfather, long ago thought to have died in South America, probably while involved in drug smuggling. As the tale ends, he's back to Colombia to settle old scores. The plot would practically disappear if any one of the major characters had a cell phone, but the environmental story is front and center and readers will be hooked as the good guys try to do the right thing. This quick-reading, fun, family adventure harkens back to the Hardy Boys in its simplicity and quirky characters.-Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Junior High School, Iowa City, IA[Page 204]. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.