By Gina Damico
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Ages 12 and up
Source: ARC Provided by the Publisher
Sixteen-year-old Lex Bartleby has sucker-punched her last classmate. Fed up with her punkish, wild behavior, her parents ship her off to upstate New York to live with her Uncle Mort for the summer, hoping that a few months of dirty farm work will whip her back into shape. But Uncle Mort’s true occupation is much dirtier than that of shoveling manure.
He’s a Grim Reaper. And he’s going to teach her the family business.
Lex quickly assimilates into the peculiar world of Croak, a town populated entirely by reapers who deliver souls from this life to the next. Along with her infuriating yet intriguing partner Driggs and a rockstar crew of fellow Grim apprentices, Lex is soon zapping her Targets like a natural born Killer.
Yet her innate ability morphs into an unchecked desire for justice—or is it vengeance?—whenever she’s forced to Kill a murder victim, craving to stop the attackers before they can strike again. So when people start to die—that is, people who aren’t supposed to be dying, people who have committed grievous crimes against the innocent—Lex’s curiosity is piqued. Her obsession grows as the bodies pile up, and a troubling question begins to swirl through her mind: if she succeeds in tracking down the murderer, will she stop the carnage—or will she ditch Croak and join in?
CROAK was just the book this reader needed after completing a series of more serious novels. Croak is a world of great escapism. If Mel Brooks (Spaceballs), Tim Burton (The Nightmare Before Christmas) and Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson) united to write crazy YA fiction, CROAK by Gina Damico would be the fruit of their labors. Silly enough to make you laugh out loud, yet containing a perfectly constructed plot that keeps the reader fully engrossed. I honestly enjoyed this book more than I had initially anticipated.
Who’d a thought that a book obviously intended to be a farce on both cliche plot devices and character personalities could turn out to be such an excellent little novel? Lex is a hooligan teenager with obvious rage issues. As a result she is sent to the town of Croak to live with her Uncle Mort during the summer before her senior year – except Mort is probably the last person to which any parent would want to send their kid. He’s a Grim Reaper. He teaches Lex how to become a Reaper herself. We learn that her rage was an apparent side effect of her “true self”. Much of the story is spent introducing Lex to this strange, new world she never knew existed; meeting new friends, training to be a Reaper and ultimately getting herself involved in a mass-murder mystery… Yet, a good chunk of the book is spent on humorous dialogue and character exchanges, allowing the reader to have an all-round good time laughing at these guys and their hilarious antics.
Some characters in this novel seem to fall into the rut of being a bit cliche, while at the same time they poke fun at the very cliches they inhabit. Lex is a strong main character. At first you hate her, but as you read more into the story she becomes quite the sympathetic lead. It seems like she doesn’t really want to be bad, she just can’t help it. In addition, I fell in love with the character, Driggs. He’s a uniquely charming guy who appreciates “fine film-making” and eats so much junk food it’s amazing he can keep a good figure (or even keep everything down!) Oops, wait, correction: Driggs is a young man with a “healthy appetite”, my bad. Among the many other characters we meet, Uncle Mort and “Dora” stand out the most to me. Oh, and Edgar. I really liked Edgar. He’s a good guy. I have not met such a quirky set of characters since I read the Percy Jackson series. What Percy Jackson did for Greek mythology, Croak does for Grim Reapers and the afterlife.
My ooonnnly complaint is that because of one “little” thing that happens later in the book, I am left thinking that a character was placed in there simply to be a plot device right at the end. But really, this is a minor complaint.
I. LOVE. CROAK. The town, the people, the places that Lex encounters on her journey. You are pulled straight into the locale and meet such an awesome set of characters. You learn all sorts of things about Croak functions, from what (and how much) to order at the local hangouts, to the particular responsibilities of its citizens, to the way things “hang” in the Afterlife. You visit the mayor’s house as well as the local bank. In addition, you find out what happens to tourists who happen upon the streets of Croak. Then, via a certain mode of transportation, you are taken out of Croak and the settings remain no less intriguing. One scene in the book that stands me is a certain trip that would have my fear of heights screaming. Every part of the story has some quirky fact involved, little is left unexplained. Because of this, I felt as drawn into Croak as I did the most mysterious parts of Hogwarts castle. Only I would rather go to Croak.
You jump into Lex’s life with a bang, and then taken on a wild ride to Croak on the seat of a motorcycle. From the minute Lex reaches Croak, there are so many people to meet and so many things to do that the book never really takes the time to slow down. And this is a good thing. I love it when humor comes at you in little blasts as you read a story that also has great substance to it. The first half is mostly spent learning about the world of Croak and Lex’s duties as a Grim. Yet all the while you know that something just ain’t right as the mystery sets itself into the story. The book also ends with a great big bang as you experience an IN YO’ FACE moment right near the end. You don’t have much of a chance to catch your breath before the story is over and you’re left gasping for book 2. I have no complaints about the pacing. It was spot on. Now I want more Croak.
Gina is a master at slapstick, using her words to create humorous scenes and witty dialogue. She is also adept at creating a scene so that the reader can visualize and feel part of it. She knows when to throw in the silliness, and when to keep it at a minimum. She also knows how to put certain… words… into certain kid’s mouths. Considering that this book is rated 12 and up, I had to take a few points off for the (at times) excessive cursing. (Ah! There’s the prude mommy emerging again!)
If you’re expecting a story with deep themes and poetic prose, you’re barking up the wrong tree with this one (and it ain’t the Ghost Gum Tree either). Although Croak is a fairly dark story at it’s core, and the events that play out are full of heart; as a whole Croak is simply a funny story that will take you to a place you probably couldn’t even begin to imagine on your own. I can’t wait for book 2, SCORCH, to be released!
(HAHAHA! I just saw a commercial for Titanic in 3D! I know a certain character who would LOVE that!)
Yup. My excitement over a commercial for Titanic (of all things) sealed the deal.
This book is AWESOME.