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?
Paperback, 311 pages
Publication: March 20th 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Four stars: A fresh, fun take on the Grim Reaper.
Lex is an equal opportunity bully. For reasons that are even unbeknownst to her, she has donned a mega bad attitude that pairs with her black hoodie. She picks on and punches everyone. Don't even dare to give her a dirty look, you risk a black eye. After repeated warnings her parents inform her, while she is restrained with a jump rope, that she is to spend the summer with her Uncle Mort. Her dad's mysterious younger brother, will take her in for the summer and put her to work on his farm. The hostile Lex, can't believe her ears. A whole summer working on the farm? Not to mention, she will be leaving behind her twin sister, Cordy, who can no longer make excuses for her bad behavior, either. The two have never really been apart. After a tedious bus ride, Lex arrives in upstate New York. She gets off the bus, to find no Uncle Mort. A loud rumbling and she turns to find a man, who looks exactly like a guy in those books parents give you to warn about talking to strangers, roars up on his motorcycle; it's Uncle Mort. Uncle Mort doesn't flinch at Lex's bad attitude. He throws her on his bike and takes her to her new home in the town of Croak. Croak is not your average town. This weird place is brimming with secrets, and so is Uncle Mort. The biggest is that Lex is a Grim Reaper. Soon Lex is performing her duties and loving life, but then something goes wrong. Mysterious deaths, with no apparent cause, begin cropping up, and the reapers themselves find themselves targeted. Can Lex and Uncle Mort find out who is behind these unexplained deaths?
What I Liked:
- I thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Damico's creativity. She takes the old, creepy black robed Grim Reaper and reinvents it. Her Grim Reapers are normal humans with extraordinary abilities, they kill and cull the souls of the dying. They wear black hoodies and are armed with their own super slick scythes. The scythes can be made from any hard gemstone, diamond, obsidian, sapphire, to name a few. If you enjoy grim reaper books, then pick this one up.
- I loved the town of Croak, with its quirky inhabitants and hilarious names with double meanings. Take a stroll down Slain Lane for instance. I could go on and on, but you need to experience all the fun of Croak for yourself. The characters in the after life are entertaining and surprising, you never know who is hanging out in the atrium of the after life.
- This book features a fun romance. Lex and Driggs are a pair who are attracted to each other, but they choose to engage in the typical teenage behavior of denial and antagonizing. It was refreshing to read a romance where the couple spends a good majority of the book insulting and picking on each other. I will tell you though, when Driggs does reveal his little secret regarding the photo in his pocket, my heart melted. If you are sick of the love triangles ( oh me me for sure! ) and tired of insta-love, grab this one.
- This novel is funny and entertaining with a bit of mystery. This book was just what I needed, a fun break from the dark dystopian. There are plenty of comedic lines and scenes in this book that will have you smiling. I especially enjoyed the scene where the gang was playing their wacky, mixed up board games. Again, the author is so creative.
- The inclusion of the mystery keeps you engaged in the story, as you unravel the clues to catch the killer. You may be surprised at the final revelation.
And The Not So Much:
- This book was funny and entertaining, but it lagged just a tiny bit after it hit the mid way point, when it took on a more serious tone. No worries, it picks up toward the finish and ends fast and furious. I felt that the final scenes with the unmasking of the killer where a bit hurried and a bit confusing.
- Uncle Mort, when he storms on scene I was excited, I thought, wow this guy is going to be awesome and kick butt, which he was. Yet, he ends up taking a secondary role for the majority of the book, I wanted more of him!
- I was a bit distressed over the whole concept of the Grim Reapers. The author does not dish out the details regarding how a person becomes a Grim Reaper, meaning how they acquire the Grim Reaper's abilities. Are the born with them or are they the result of environmental influences? I would like the author to touch a bit more on how someone is destined to be a Reaper.
- Finally, this book is recommended for readers twelve and up. After reading this book, I would caution parents regarding the recommendation. This book, in my opinion, is better suited for a little bit more mature readers, I would say fourteen and over. This book isn't filled with horrendous content, but there is lots of cursing, and discussion revolving around deaths: some of them being violent in nature, and some teen drinking. There is nothing highly offensive by any means, but if you are a parent that prefers to keep that type of content out of your young readers hands, then I would suggest you wait on this title until your reader is a bit older.
- This is a minor consideration, but there were a few occasions where the author threw in some thesaurus words such as “troglodyte” and “avuncular”. These were two that I highlighted. Seriously, you are writing this book for ages twelve and up, keep that in mind. I like to think I have an expanded vocabulary, but even I had to pause and look these up on my ereader, is a young teenager going to know the definitions of these words? I think not.
Croak, is a fun foray into the world of the Reapers. Take a visit to the charming town of Croak, where life revolves around death. If you are looking for a fresh view on Reapers, grab a copy of Croak. Lex and her partner, Driggs, under the tutelage of Uncle Mort will lead you on a wild adventure with a touch of real and awkward romance, that will make you smile. Not everyone meets the boy of their dreams and falls head over heels. Some girls, like Lex, may end up punching them for being annoying instead. Gina Damico is another talented debut author. I am looking forward to reading the sequel, Scorch, in September 2012. I am sure Lex, Driggs and Mort will be back with a vengeance.
“Lex wondered, for a fleeting moment, what her principal’s head might look like if it were stabbed atop a giant wooden spear.”
“Sitting atop a black and purple--streaked motorcycle was, in a startling number of details, the exact type of villain depicted in the Never Talk to Strangers! picture book that had been drilled into Lex as a child: a man six feet tall, in his late thirties, lean but strong, roguishly attractive and sporting the rather nondescript ensemble of a smudged white T-shirt, a pair of jeans, and heavy black combat boots.”
“Momentarily forgetting how wind works, Lex tried spitting at him. This failed.”
“The motorcycle sprang to life yet again and shot down the road. Lex squinted against the wind as they rode, the trees a drab green blur, the road a dizzying ribbon beneath her feet.”
“But let me tell you something right now, something that I don’t want you ever to forget: Starbucks is an abomination.”
“I am about two seconds away from vomiting all over every inch of you,” she told her uncle in a slurred voice as he hung up. “And me without a poncho. Pity.”
“the material of your scythe says something about your personality...or something. I don’t know, I don’t really buy into any of that hippie crap.”
“I’d rather take a bath with a toaster.”
“Oh. Um, thanks,” she muttered, suddenly very aware of the last time she’d been complimented by a boy (never) and the current condition of her hair (pure chaos).
“As everyone knows, the only population more catty than a pack of actual cats is a clique of teenage girls.”
“If everyone with a bad attitude got fired, the postal service would cease to exist.”
A big thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for kindly providing me with a copy in exchange for a fair review.