Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Croak by Gina Damico

Title: Croak
Author: Gina Damico
Publisher: Houghton MIfflin Harcourt/Graphia
Release Date: March 20, 2012
Pages: 320 pages (paperback)
How I Got the Book: ARC received through NetGalley

Fed up with her wild behavior, sixteen-year-old Lex's 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 shoveling manure.

He's a Grim Reaper. And he's going to teach Lex the family business.

She quickly assimilates into the peculiar world of Croak, a town populated by reapers who deliver souls from this life to the next. But Lex can't stop her desire for justice--or is it vengeance?--whenever she encounters a murder victim, craving to stop the attackers before they can strike again. Will she ditch Croak and go rogue with her reaper skills.


Enough is enough. Lex Bartleby's parents can't take anymore of her bad attitude and the multitude of fights she gets into at school. With no other options left, they send her to stay with Uncle Mort for the summer, hoping some time artificially inseminating cows and cleaning up manure will help her clean up her act. Then it turns out she won't be doing farmwork after all because she will learn how to be a Grim Reaper. Almost as soon as she arrives and gets trained in the basics, strange deaths start to pop up. People who weren't supposed to die turn up dead with their eyes fully clouded over. When the connection is revaled and the culprit is unraveled, will Lex do what is right or join in?

Lex starts out rude, crude, and angry like a cat that just got a bath against its will. While she does get some development and the more redeemable sides of her personality shine through later, this barely changes over the course of the novel.  She's an anti-heroine to her core. Some of the supporting characters revealed their pasts to Lex, but I still feel like I don't know them very well at all. Lex's relationships with the people around her could be much stronger than they are.

Croak has an answer for almost every question about how its world of Grims works, from the way it detects when someone is going to die (jellyfish, and I swear it makes sense when they explain it) how they get their jobs done. It's obvious a lot of thought and hard work has gone into building this world up from a few bricks pilfered from somewhere else to a mansion. A few of the twists were a little obvious, but others weren't so clear.

Even though it's about death and the struggle between vengeance and doing what is right, Croak is pretty funny. Black comedy, almost. Death puns are everywhere, and the sheer absurdity of the Afterlife and what many people from history are doing there makes for great mental imagery. Emily Dickinson sobbing all over the place, Quoth the raven pooping on Teddy Roosevelt, John Wilkes Booth and Elvis Presley having an arm-wrestling match while Lincoln watches,... . Combining comedy and death can be tricky, but the book knows clearly where the lines is drawn. A child dying or the rocky pasts of the other Grims? Not funny. Edgar Allen Poe building a Fortress of Solitude? Very funny.

There were quite a few details I feel weren't explained well or given enough depth. It's implied that she has had many, many incidents at school in the past, some of them severe. One was enough to reduce the entire hockey team to tears. With such a record, I can't see how she is still in school no matter how much begging her parents did. At some point much earlier than they did, the school administration would have had to say enough was enough. That she wasn't immediately thrown off the bus after throwing a shoe at the bus driver irks me too. It's got a few other kinks to work out too: some messy narrative head-jumping, some telling, and a little moment of slut-shaming that made me frown. It's a good, fun book as it is now, but it could be better.

Overall, Croak is a darkly comedic book and absolutely absurd in the very best of ways. Considering that books, shows, and movies so strange that they border or become absurd are my favorites, this is a very good thing.

4 stars!

What am I reading next?: Ferocity Summer by Alissa Grosso