Here are some ideas that will help you understand fiction books, using Hoot as an example. When you start reading a novel, think first about characters. Who is the book about? The first person or people you read about will probably be the main character or characters. Try to find out what each character is like. Pay attention to what he or she says and does, and what other people say or do in response to the character. Early in the story, you should be able to find out what the character wants or needs. This is the conflict of the story. Also, find out where and when the story takes place. This is known as the setting. In Hoot, we first meet Roy, who is the main character of the story. He has recently moved to Coconut Cove, Florida. He wants to find out about the mysterious running boy, and he needs to keep from getting pulverized by Dana Matherson.
As more characters are introduced, think about how they relate to the main character. They may be antagonists—those who keep the main character from achieving his goal. Dana Matherson and Beatrice Leep are antagonists to Roy at first, but Beatrice ends up becoming a friend who helps Roy find out about the running boy.
Some characters may be part of the story's subplots. These are stories that intersect with the main story. In Hoot, Officer Delinko and Curly both have their own story lines with their own conflict. Officer Delinko wants to become a detective, and Curly wants to keep his job as the construction site foreman. Sometimes the action of the story leaves Roy and follows one of these other main characters. The running boy, Mullet Fingers, has his own wants and needs, as well. He wants to save the owls and to keep his mother from finding out where he is.
Pay attention to how the characters' wants and needs change throughout the novel. When Roy finds out who the running boy is and what he's trying to do, Roy's goal changes to wanting to save the owls.
As various events happen in the novel, keep track of main events and how they move the characters closer to their goals or further away from them. When Officer Delinko's car windows are spray-painted black, he is set back from becoming a detective, and they get Curly in trouble with his boss. This is all part of Mullet Fingers's plan to protect the owls, as we find out later.
Eventually a story will reach a high point of tension called the climax. Events come together so the conflicts will be resolved. The characters will achieve their goals and solve their problems, or they will fail. In Hoot, this is when "Mother Paula" arrives for the groundbreaking ceremony, but the children block the event and reveal the presence of the owls. The owls are saved.
At the end of a novel, in the final chapter and possibly in an Epilogue, as Hoot has, look for all the loose ends to be tied up and all the questions answered. This is called the resolution. We find out Mullet Fingers's real name is Napoleon Bridger. The Mother Paula's company is embroiled in a scandal. Dana Matherson is sent to juvenile detention, and Napoleon uses him as a pawn in an escape plan.
Keeping track of characters, setting, conflict, subplots, climax, and resolution as you read will help you understand and enjoy novels.