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An Ecological Mystery

by Jean Craighead George

Age Range: 8 - 12

Pub Date: April 30th, 1992
ISBN: 0-06-020396-X
Publisher: HarperCollins

The naturalist-novelist returns to the genre she invented in Who Really Killed Cock Robin? (1971) with a mystery incorporating a wealth of details about a threatened Florida habitat. Here, Liza K. and her mom--escaping abusive dad--live in a tent on an island- like hammock (a raised area with a unique habitat) in the Everglades. Nearby are other homeless, including "James James," Vietnam vet and expert naturalist, as well as an oversized alligator, Dajun, endangered by a Pest Control official who's out to shoot him. Though nearby condos spew pollutants, Dajun's natural behavior keeps his pool clean. Aware of the hunter, Dajun hides; Liza K. and friends try to find him to lure him to safety. The natural history steals the show here, as George intended. Liza K.'s expertise on the functions of almost every bush, bird, and bug stretch credulity; still, a kid who is both gifted and dedicated can learn a lot, and she has a fine resource in James James. Few readers will absorb even a fraction of the information here, but the sense of an overall pattern is conveyed with enthusiasm, and they'll catch enough to understand how Liza K. finally figures out where Dajun is. The happy ending all around is pretty unrealistic (the hammock becomes a nature preserve, the vet its curator; the indigent are kindly taken care of; and Mom gets a better job), but it does make for an entertaining finish. George is a fine writer; and though the message is heavy-handed, it's one about which many young people are deeply concerned. (Fiction. 8-12)