Thursday, November 23, 2023


Hiaasen, Carl. Wrecker. 
September 26, 2023 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Valdez Jones the VIII, who calls himself "Wrecker" has a lot going on in his life, even though he lives in easy going Key West during the pandemic. His father left the family when he was very young, in order to pursue a musical career. Wrecker is fifteen now, and his father's career is just taking off, with a song ripping off both The Eagles and Jimmy Buffett. His mother is remarried to Roger, who has suggested that their house is too small, so Wrecker lives with his step sister Suzanna, who is in a wheelchair after an accident. After a financial settlement, she has devoted her time to championing environmental causes. Wrecker has an odd job; an older man, Mr. Riley, on his street pays his $50 a week to keep a grave at the local cemetary clean. He finds out a decent amount about local history looking at the other gravestones, and since he cleans it at night, also comes across some shady characters. One of these, whom he refers to as Silver Mustache, is a man he meets when he is out of his small boat, and the man and his friends run into a shoal. They hope that Wrecker can help them, so they can avoid being fined for damaging the shoal. Silver Mustache throws Wrecker a beer can with $500 in it for "trying" to help, and we all know that being indebted to shady characters is a bad plan. Sure enough, odd things keep happening. Wrecker and his friend Willi find Silver Mustache's speedboat wrecked, and true to his heritage (the original Valdez Jones was a Black man who dove to retrieve things from shipwrecks) Wrecker saves several packages from the boat, which turn out to be illegal fake vaccination cards. Silver Mustache has too much information about him, but Wrecker doesn't know how to disentangle himself. He ends up watching a suspicious grave for the smuggler as well. He attends school, both online and occasionally in person, hangs out with Willi, and agrees to help Suzanna, who is planning a blockade to keep cruise ships from landing in the area, which has been damaging the ecosystem. Mr. Riley passes away, and his house goes up for sale, and Wrecker is accosted by a police officer when trying to meet Willi at her house, an incident that underlines the history of horrible behavior towards Blacks in Key West. Will Wrecker be able to extricate himself from Silver Mustache's activities before they cause him grief?
Strengths: Mr. Hiaasen always does a great job including a lot of history as well as environmental messages. I didn't know, for instance, that the waters around Key West became healthier when cruise ships no longer stopped there during the pandemic. I found Mr. Riley and his story interesting. This felt a little like Deuker's 2005 Runner or Connelly's Brawler, with the ties to illegal jobs that are too good to be true, but Wrecker is fully aware that Silver Mustache is not a good person to have around. Willi is a good ally most of the time, and Suzanna is a stable influence who contrasts well with Wrecker's flighty mother. The nighttime antics will appeal to readers who want to be allowed out at night to get into trouble! 
Weaknesses: I would have purchased this without blinking fifteen years ago, but it seems more involved and complicated than the mysteries my students request now. I'd definitely purchase it for a high school library. 
What I really think: This seems like more of a YA mystery; it's more introspective, Wrecker has a lot of freedom, and there is some disturbing history involving suicide, affairs, and lynchings. If you're a fan of the more solidly middle grade Hoot, I'd read this one before purchasing. This is more along the lines of Skink or Squirm

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