Billy Dickens is not the kind of kid who suffers bullies or poachers or absent parents.
Billy’s dad left when Billy was 3. Checks arrive on the 10th of every month, but Billy’s mom destroys the envelopes to keep the return address from Billy. Shortly before summer vacation, Billy pieces one together and discovers his father’s in Montana, so he leaves Florida to find him. Billy’s tired of his mother’s evasiveness about his father—all he knows is that he’s got a new wife and family—and Billy’s ready for answers. In Montana, Billy meets Lil, his stepmother, and Summer, his stepsister, both members of the Crow Nation. But not his dad. Lil and Summer profess to know as little as his mother about his dad’s actual job, but they don’t mind having Billy wait with them for him to return (they even give him a little primer on U.S.–Native Nations relations). When his father’s truck is found abandoned with slashed tires, they get a message via drone: “See you in Florida.” Billy’s had enough. He tracks his dad down, but that turns out to be just the beginning of his adventure. Hiaasen’s newest wildlife-centered caper for middle graders is characteristically entertaining—and, just as characteristically, genially improbable. Narrator Billy’s white, a sarcastic outsider with a strong sense of justice and a deep affection for snakes.
Humorous, self-deprecating narration and convoluted exploits will keep pages turning till the satisfying close. (Fiction. 9-14)