The Weirdo

Theodore Taylor, Author Harcourt Children's Books $17 (304p) ISBN 978-0-15-294952-5

Environmentalism provides the political backdrop for this story of the courage and self-acceptance acquired by ``weirdo'' Chip Clewt, 17, in his fight to save the bear population in a North Carolina swamp. Badly disfigured in a fire, the boy takes refuge from the world with only the bears and Tom, his boss, for company. But when Tom disappears, Chip enlists his new friend Samantha to help prove that the man was murdered by poachers. In an eloquent debate that proves informative and moving, human and animal rights are pitted against each other. This murder mystery/love story/environmental thriller by the author of The Trouble with Tuck weaves an uncommon spell. Deftly drawn characterizations, from the admirable to the loathsome, and an engrossing journalistic format are among the many strong points that make his timely and compelling novel a winner. Ages 12-up. (Nov.)