Monday, March 2, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Beetle Busters: A Rogue Insect and the People Who Track It by Loree Griffin Burns, photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz

I've really liked the other work that Loree Griffin Burns has done; Hive Detectives and Handle with Care. However, this fell short of my expectations.

The narrative opens with the emotional discovery of two teens boys that a wide swathe of trees has been cut. Why? They were infested with Asian longhorned beetles. The first chapter describes the beetle and its life cycle, which destroys trees. "To save trees, we have to kill the beetle, but to eliminate the beetle, we have to kill a lot of trees."

The next chapter explains how the beetle came to infest the US and the history of the six infestations that have been found - so far. Clint McFarland and Mike Bohne are part of the team of scientists and foresters trying to stop the infestation and the following chapter moves into their current efforts to eradicate the most recent beetle infestation in Worcester, MA. Unfortunately, it wasn't just the town that was infested - the beetles had moved to a small, wild forest nearby. The final chapter discuses the effects of tree cutting and the continued spread of the beetle and re-posits the original question "Was cutting those trees the right thing to do?"

An author's note explains that Loree Griffin Burns experienced the beetle infestation in her town and this book grew out of her experiences with how the beetles were handled. She doesn't entirely agree with Clint McFarland on his solutions for the ALB infestation, but supports continuing dialogue and research into the problem. Back matter includes sources to learn more, including books, movies, and websites, glossary, bibliography, acknowledgements, and index.

This departs from the usual model of the Scientists in the Field because it doesn't really focus on any of the characters involved and I think that's why I felt so disconnected from the story. The sources say that the book is primarily based on interviews conducted by the author over the course of three years with additional research, but I didn't get the feeling of seeing into the lives and passions of the scientists. Although this is obviously a very personal issue for the author, she didn't explain her own involvement until that final author's note and this left the whole book feeling very impersonal.

Verdict: I really wanted to like this one, but I just couldn't connect with it. The older Scientists in the Field title, Science Warriors is still a better choice in my opinion. If your budget is large enough, or if invasive species is a topic of interest to your patrons, you could have both, but if you can only have one go with Science Warriors.

ISBN: 9780547792675; Published 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

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