Friday, June 3, 2011

Rotters Book Review

Author: Daniel Kraus. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Delacorte Press. ISBN: 9780385738576.
Annotation:  After his mother’s death, Joey Crouch is sent from his home in Chicago to live with the father he’s never met in Iowa. Ken Harnett is as far from an ideal father as it gets: he lives in a small, filthy shack, is always covered in dirt and a strange, foul odor, and disappears for days at a time leaving Joey to fend for himself. Soon Joey makes a startling discovery about Harnett, however, that explains his strange behavior: his father is a professional grave robber.
Personal thoughts: Wow. This is certainly different from any book I have ever read, and was, at times, very difficult to get through. I’m not sure what to make of it. It is very well written and the characters are engaging, but in a horrifying way. Kraus dives head first into the utterly macabre, and only brave readers should dare to follow him into the world six-feet-under. While the novel will make your stomach turn, you will find yourself unable to wait arriving at the fascinating conclusion. I will definitely remember Rotters for a long time.
Plot summary: Joey Crouch has lived a sheltered life in Chicago with his eccentric but loving mother. After she is tragically killed in a bus accident, Joey is sent to live with the father he has never met in the small town of Bloughton, Iowa. Not sure what to expect, Joey’s worst fears are realized when his new smalltown life fraught with unhappiness: his father, Ken Harnett, is an unkempt and unfriendly man who immediately lets Joey know that his presence is not desired. Joey is treated horribly at his new high school, constantly mocked, bullied, and abused by students and teachers. Joey does find some solace in the company of his friendly band teacher who encourages him to continue playing trumpet, a skill fostered by his mother. But as Joey’s life becomes more and more depressing, even music seems pointless in the endless monotony of torment. One night, Joey decides to learn the truth about his father’s odd behavior and hides in his truck as he leaves for another one of his late night trips. Joey soon discovers Harnett’s secret: he is a professional grave robber, or Digger, who makes a living pawning the treasures he steals from the dead. At first, Joey is horrified. Soon, however, he is drawn into the mysterious world of the Diggers as Harnett teaches him the finer points of uncovering a corpse.
Review:  This tense and often disturbing novel packs a powerful punch on many different fronts. The opening of the novel outlines the strange relationship between Joey and his mother then quickly jumps into the events following her death. After Joey arrives in Middle America, the juxtaposition of his experiences at his new high school and the “adventures” he has with his father makes for an interesting but also horrifying plot. Once Joey learns that he is good at his father’s craft, he uses digging as a means of escaping the torment, abuse, and bullying enacted upon him at his high school. The satisfaction the reader feels at Joey’s overcoming these obstacles is curious in light of the fact that it is obtained through his enjoyment of grave robbing with his long-lost pops. Graphic descriptions of what can be found six-feet-under, including such phrases as “coffin liquor” and “the boneyard blues,” make parts of the novel difficult to get through in a stomach churning way. These horrors, however, are what make Rotters such a unique, utterly original, and highly memorable novel.  Kraus does a fantastic job of turning something as disgusting as grave robbing into a means for a father and son to connect. The novel, while written for young adults, definitely has a place in adult literature as well, and can be enjoyed by any reader who wants something truly different from anything they’ve ever read.
Genre: Fiction/Horror
Reading level: Grade 10+

Similar titles: N/A
Themes:  Father/son relationships, grave robbing, death/loss, high school, bullying, feeling like an outsider, traditions.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from authors R.L. Stine, Scott Westerfeld, Guillermo Del Toro, Chuck Hogan, and Michael Grant.  
Series Information: N/A

Discussion Questions:

- Had you ever heard of grave robbing before reading this novel? What had you heard? What did you learn?

- Do you think Joey's father's "job" helped the relationship between the two? Why or why not?

- Why do you think Joey was bullied in school? Have you ever been bullied?

- Do you think what Joey and his father did was wrong? Why or why not?

- What does the word "macabre" mean? How does it apply to this novel? 

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