Wednesday, August 29, 2012


These days I rarely pick up a book without knowing much about it - I have a list that is so long of books recommended by you, my fellow book bloggers, and I haven't been led astray so far!  This one I saw in my library's Wowbrary newsletter back when it was on order, and, as I am a huge fan of the Discworld's Death, and the Death in the Sandman books - not to mention Chistopher Moore's A Dirty Job and the TV series Dead Like Me, of course I had to pick it up!

Our heroine is Lex (Lexington) Bartleby, a girl who was once kind and cooperative, but for the past two years has been constantly in trouble for mouthing off and fighting in school, and who is secretly terrified by the constant boiling rage she feels inside her.  Finally her parents, at their wits' end, decide to send her to stay with her Uncle Mort, who lives out in the country.  Lex is furious, and also upset at being separated from her sister, the one friend she has left in the world.  She certainly does not want to spend the summer shoveling cow dung, or whatever other lovely chores entail her stint on the farm.

She is astounded when she arrives at the town of Croak to discover that cow dung is not on her list of things to deal with.  Instead, she will be taught the family business.  Mort is a Grim Reaper, and her job will be to assist in transporting souls from this world to the next. Unfortunately, what should have been a summer of learning the ropes becomes fraught with danger, as someone is killing reapers, and while Lex is a newcomer to this world, she just may be the only one who can stop the murderer.

There were things I loved about this book, particularly the combination of humor and horror, which always tickles me.  The dialogue was snappy and worked well to define the characters and their relationships with each other, and the town of Croak itself is a whole lot of fun.

I had a little trouble with the premise, though.  It never seemed clear to me why these reapers are necessary, beyond making for an entertaining plot device.  Lex's rebellious persona seems to vanish when it isn't necessary to the plot, and the storyline was fairly simple and predictable.  And the adults were conveniently horrendously oblivious.

But let me tell you something about this book:  Yesterday when I was working at the library, an eighth grader came up to the reference desk holding it in her hand.  "I just finished this book and I LOVED it!" she told me.  "And the sequel isn't out yet.  Do you have anything else that's kind of like it?"  We talked about what it was that she enjoyed so much about the book, and it turned out to be the mixture of horror and humor.  She loved the humor, thought the book was hysterical, and she also liked the supernatural elements and the dash of romance.  I asked her what other books she had enjoyed, to get a better idea, and get this: she normally doesn't read.  Ever.  Unless they make her at school.  She just picked up the book on a whim, and now she wants more.

This is what I'm talking about, people!  This novel turned out to be the home-run book for this teenager - the book that may set her on the road to reading for life.  There is nothing like it - teachers and librarians will know what I'm talking about, and I just love when I see it happen.  It's my favorite thing about my job, and it makes me want to do the Snoopy happy dance all around my library.  I refrained, though - I didn't want to scare her away.  So who cares about my little qualms about the book?  This book worked for this teenager, and in the end, that is (to this reader/former teacher/librarian/parent) the main thing that counts.

I sent her off with Skulduggery Pleasant, the first book of the Mediator series, and I placed a few holds on some other books that we didn't have on the shelf.  I hope she'll come back and let me know what she thinks.  If you have any other suggestions for her, let me know and I'll pass them on.

Croak by Gina Damico (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012)

Books in the Croak series:
1. Croak
2. Scorch (September 2012)

Also reviewed at:
Bewitched Bookworms:  "The plot and the storyline was lacking in my opinion and didn’t manage to completely drew me in, which was a pity because I still think the premise and idea is great."
Reutreads: "From Killers to Cullers, from Gamma to Ether, from yoricks to jellyfish, Croak is a hugely entertaining and also at times very touching read"
Working for the Mandroid:  "Who knew a book about reapers and a teenage delinquent could make me laugh so much?"


  1. You don't need to ask *why* a Reaper exists--psychopomps are a human trope, and as such are scattered across history. They just *are*.

    1. Curmudgn - Oh, I completely agree! I should have been more specific. It was the setup that seemed superfluous, the whole bureaucracy and red tape and politics of the organization - it just never really made believable sense to me. That's all!


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