Hiaasen once again shows his knack for developing quirky characters and putting them in dangerous situations. Add a mystery or two and real-life endangered critters to save, and you have thoroughly captivating edutainment.
Whereas Hoot was about rescuing burrowing owls from a pancake house scheduled to be built over their nest, Scat involves endangered Florida panthers in the Everglades and a greedy oil baron drilling on public land.
When Mrs. Starch, the tough and somewhat crazy biology teacher, disappears from a field trip in the swamps, everyone fears the worst. After all, the last anyone saw of her was the back of her safari outfit as she marched into the burning brush to look for a student’s lost asthma inhaler.
The official word is that Mrs. Starch had a family emergency and has taken a leave of absence, but Nick and Marta aren’t convinced. Especially since Smoke has also disappeared.
Smoke is the kid’s nickname, of course, earned because he has a history of arson. He also has a history of run-ins with Mrs. Starch.
Only the day before the field trip he bit off the pencil Mrs. Starch was waving threateningly in his face, chewed it up, and swallowed it! Smoke is not to be messed with. But then neither is Mrs. Starch.
What happened to them? Did Smoke kill her and then run off? Nick and Marta do some investigating on their own, and get mixed up with some shady-looking characters, and some real heroes, too.
On the eco side of the story, Nick is pretty familiar with the outdoors and has always wanted to see a Florida panther. The animals are so rare and secretive, though, he knows his chances are slim. Without spoiling too much, let’s just say he gets more than a glimpse of more than one panther.
Scat is suggested for grades 5 – 8.