Annotation: After spending the last two years constantly getting in trouble at school for fighting, stealing, and cursing, sixteen-year-old Lex Bartleby’s parents decide to send her to live with her Uncle Mort in upstate New York for the summer. Upset that she has to spend the next three months on a farm, Lex is surprised when, after arriving in the small town of Croak, she learns that her uncle is actually a Grim Reaper, and he is recruiting her for one unusual summer job.
Personal thoughts: It’s been awhile since I’ve picked up a book that I loved as much as Croak from start to finish. Gina Damico’s writing style really resonated with me because she is able to accomplish a lot without being cliché, melodramatic, or attempting to manipulate the reader into feeling a certain way. She simple wrote a good, entertaining and original story with a solid plot and likable characters: a definite recipe for success! Even though I didn’t like her at first, I am now a huge Lex fan and can’t wait to see what happens in the sequel, Scorch. I highly recommend this book to teens, adults, or anyone who simply wants something that is breezily paced and enjoyable.
Plot summary: For the past two years, sixteen-year-old Lexington “Lex” Bartleby has made it her personal mission to punch, bite, scratch or generally injure her classmates. She used to be a straight-A student and have more friends than just her twin sister, Cordy, but for some reason she has been overcome by an inexplicable rage that makes her lash out at everyone, even her loving parents. Fed up with her bad attitude (and potty mouth), her parents decide to send her to live with her Uncle Mort in upstate New York for the summer. Lex is, of course, beyond angry, but soon finds herself on a bus travelling north to the small town of Croak. After she arrives and meets her motorcycle riding, crazy-haired but strangely likable uncle, she soon realizes that Croak isn’t your average farming town. It’s actually home to the eastern seaboard’s population of Grim Reapers, people who travel instantaneously from place to place, extracting the souls from those who have died and transporting them to the afterlife. Uncle Mort informs Lex that her rage is a normal reaction that arises from those who have the natural ability to be Grims, and that she will be spending the summer reaping along with the other Juniors, teenagers who call Croak home. At first, Lex is excited about her new life in Croak. She gets along well with the other Juniors and even likes her partner in reaping, a guy just a few years older than her named Driggs. But not everything is happy-go-lucky in Croak: it seems that a rogue Grim has been travelling under the radar and killing people who weren’t ready to die. When it appears that this murderer is now targeting other Grims, Lex, Driggs and Uncle Mort must find out who it is before it’s too late.
Review: Funny and original, it is difficult for fans of the young adult genre not to instantly fall in love with Croak, the first novel in a witty new series for teens by Gina Damico. From start to finish, Croak is well-written, entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable. One of the most unusual (and ultimately satisfying) parts of the story is that, in the beginning, the reader isn’t compelled to like Lex. She is foul-mouthed, rude, violent, and just plain irritating. She has no reason to be as angry as she is, and, like her parents and sweet twin sister, the reader hopes that Uncle Mort will (literally) knock some sense into her. After she arrives in Croak, however, and begins working as a Grim, she begins to transform into someone readers can root for. This transformation isn’t forced, but is one of the best parts of the story. In addition to this, there are loads of other things readers will love about Croak. The town itself is interesting, with all of the shops having morbid names and equally morbid owners. The mechanics of the Grim system of collecting and transporting souls from those who have died is also very original and not confusing, something that often happens when novels for teens get a bit too scientific in their descriptions of how paranormal things actually work. Supporting characters like Lex’s lovable Uncle Mort, her wise-cracking partner, Driggs, and her other new friends in Croak add a great deal to the story as well. Overall, a fast-paced and fun start to a series that is easy to recommend to both teen and adult readers alike. The sequel, Scorch, was released in September 2012.
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Anna Dressed in Blood and Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake, Revenants series by Amy Plum, Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent.
Themes: Grim Reapers, the afterlife, death, anger, friendship, murder, mystery.
Awards/Reviews: Positive reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, VOYA, Bulletin and Booklist.
Series Information: First novel in Croak series. Second novel, Scorch, released in September 2012. Third novel set to be in 2013.
Discussion questions:- Why do you think Lex was such a bully at her school? Do you think that bullies often have a “rage” like the one Lex described?
- Were you surprised to learn Uncle Mort’s actual profession and the true nature of the town of Croak? Do you think Lex was?
- What did you think of the author’s description of the afterlife? Do you think it’s okay to read books like Croak even if your personal or religious beliefs conflict with the story? Why or why not?
- Who was your favorite character in the novel? Why?
- Why do you think the residents of Croak were so distrustful of Lex? Do you think their opinions changed over time?
- What would you like to see happen in the sequel, Scorch?