Hoot opens as Roy Eberhardt is bullied on the bus on his way to middle school in Florida. He has been having trouble making friends since moving there from Montana, and it does not help that he has been targeted by the large and unsavory Dana Matherson, who spends much of his time tormenting the newcomer: calling him “cowgirl,” teasing him, and trying to start fights. This time, he manages to get his hand around Roy’s head and squeezes, tighter and tighter, taunting Roy to beg for mercy. Because Roy’s head is smashed against the bus window, Roy notices a boy his age running alongside the bus. The boy is running incredibly quickly—and without any shoes. Roy is fascinated as he watches the boy sprint away; his curiosity is piqued. Who is this kid? Why is he not in school or getting on the bus? Where is he running? Why is he running so fast? Why is he not wearing shoes? As Dana releases Roy’s head, Roy vows to figure out who the running boy is.

A few days later, Roy notices the boy run past the bus again, but Dana grabs him as he tries to dash out in pursuit. Desperate to get off the bus and follow the mysterious boy, Roy delivers a strong punch to Dana’s face and takes off. He runs for a long time, following the boy through neighborhoods and parking lots and finally across a golf course, where he is hit in the head with a golf ball, which halts his chase. Later in the week, Roy returns to the golf course and forges into the woods where he saw the bare-footed boy run. He discovers a campsite that is obviously inhabited, but no one is there. As Roy explores the area, he upsets a bag that is filled with dozens of cottonmouth snakes, which are very poisonous; the odd thing about them is that the tips of their tails are covered in sparkly paint. A voice behind him tells him to freeze and walk backward; before he knows it, the running boy snags Roy and covers his face with a hood. The running boy marches Roy out of the forest and then disappears again.

The next day at school, Roy is accosted by Beatrice Leep, a girl in his grade who is on the soccer team. She grills him about what he was doing following the running boy, and she tells Roy to stay away from him or she’ll beat him up. This only makes Roy more curious. That afternoon, he grabs some sneakers from his house to give to the boy and rides off on his bike, anxious to find him. Beatrice discovers him, though. Roy learns that the running boy,...

(The entire section is 992 words.)