Scat Summary

Carl Hiaasen

Scat

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Scat Summary

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Scat is Carl Hiaasen’s third young adult novel, published in 2009. Like its predecessors Hoot and Flush, Scat takes place in Florida and uses environmental issues as a background for the primary conflict. The book follows student Nick Waters and his friend Marta Gonzales as they search for the unpopular biology teacher Mrs. Bunny Starch, who has gone missing.

The novel beings in Mrs. Starch’s biology class, where she berates fearsome student Duane for not reading the homework. She assigns Duane, who is also known as ‘Smoke’ for his love of fire, a 500 page essay on his pimples, which only aggravates him further. Nick and Marta watch in horror as Duane bites off part of Mrs. Starch’s pencil, chews it, and swallows in defiance.

The following day, the biology class takes a field trip to the Black Vine Swamp where the students hope to spot an elusive Florida panther. Duane is notably absent after the previous day’s events, which is fine with Nick and Marta. However, the field trip is cancelled partway through because of a wildfire. While retreating to the school bus, a student announces that she forgot her inhaler. Mrs. Starch goes back into the smoke to look for it, and the students go back to school on the bus. Mrs. Starch had driven herself to the swamp, so everyone assumed she would drive herself back. However, nobody sees her after that afternoon. The principal claims that Mrs. Starch is away on family business, but Nick and Marta think Duane has something to do with it. They begin an investigation on their teacher’s disappearance.

Nick and Marta soon grow suspicious over the whole disappearance and fire, which has now been labeled an arson. When they stop by Mrs. Starch’s house, they’re caught by a man named Twilly who bills himself as an eco-avenger and claims to be her nephew. Also, there has been a change in Duane’s character as he acts more like a human being and less like a terrible bully. He claims he didn’t start the fire. Nick and Marta decide to team up with Twilly and Duane, who take them to Mrs. Starch who has been protecting the panthers in the swamp since her disappearance.

The team learns that the panthers in the swamp live in a protected area called Section 21. They also learn about the Red Diamond Energy Company led by Drake McBride. The oil company is only allowed to drill in Section 22 which borders the panther habitat. McBride, along with his right-hand-man Jimmy Lee Bayliss, is convinced that there are no more panthers in the Everglades and believes the neighboring area is rich with oil. He and the Red Diamond Energy Company drill there illegally, and will do anything to keep people out and avoid getting caught.

In the end, the team finds out that the Red Diamond Energy Company set off the fire to keep the field trip away from their illegal drilling site. Drake McBride is arrested, and the panthers are safe.

The novel received favorable reviews from critics as an exciting and funny eco-mystery. David Pogue of The New York Times calls it “more engrossing than either of its predecessors,” crediting intricate plotting and rich characters for its slightly more mature tone. Besides the setting, the book shares several additional similarities with Hiaasen’s previous novels Hoot and Flush. The main character of all three is a middle school boy with a spirited female sidekick, and together they face a bully and meet a mysterious but kindly stranger. All three involve a greedy business tycoon of some sort who want to exploit Florida’s natural resources.

Scat is, like Hoot and Flush before it, a cautionary tale about greed and its effect on nature. The Everglades provide a suitable setting for this theme, as the fragile ecosystem is continually threatened by encroaching development in southern Florida, from which Hiaasen hails. Themes of teamwork, an appreciation for nature, and judging by appearances are also woven into the story as Nick and Marta soon realize that neither Duane, Twilly, nor Mrs. Starch are who they initially seem.

A side plot involves Nick’s father, who is fighting overseas in Iraq. When his father is injured and loses his right arm, he comes home and finds it difficult to adopt to life as a left-handed person. In solidarity with his father and to support his rehabilitation, Nick elects to sling his right arm behind his back and learns to become a lefty as well. Nick keeps his arm tied for much of the story and only unslings it when it becomes necessary to use two hands to save the panthers. The arm becomes a metaphor for Nick’s struggle, as he must balance empathy and loyalty to his family with using the tools at his disposal to achieve a greater goal.