Reading level: Young Adult
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Paperback: 311 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release date: March 20th 2012
Series: Croak #1
Source: Personal Shelf
Reviewed by: Christine
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?
Croak is the start to a new YA series about Lexington Bartleby, aka Tyrannosaurus Lex or simply Lex, delinquents, troublemaker and all around nuisance. At the beginning of this book, Lex is a true delinquent. She hurts fellow students, acts out and has serious anger management issues. Unlike other "delinquent" characters, she doesn’t just pretend to be aggressive, she simply is and has no explanation for it. One day, her parents have had enough and decided to send her away. A whole summer of hard labor on her uncle’s farm instead of a summer in NYC, or so Lex thinks.
Turns out Croak, the small town where her estranged uncle lives is actually one of the few towns inhabited only by reapers and her crazy Uncle Mort is actually their mayor. Shortly after her arrival and initiation in the town community, Lex shows a remarkable talent for the Killing and Reaping business and a newfound sense of justice – a wish for dishing out justice to the killers of innocent victims she has to reap. Then, unscheduled deaths with an unknown cause of death (even for the most experienced reapers) start to occur and things are getting a lot more interesting.
I really enjoyed the dark, snarky and sassy humor of this book, even though it is a bit immature from time to time. Still, Croak is a hilarious version of the well known "delinquent is sent away" trope. Some elements of the story were expected, like Lex developing an extraordinary gift, struggling to fit in in Croak and the subtle romance between her and one of the other junior grims. Yet, Gina Damico takes these motives, changes them up and thus puts a whole new spin on this story: suddenly growing up in a loving family makes Lex an outsider among a group of kids who’ve lived a rough life so far.
The reaper mythology is very well crafted with funny and extraordinary details. I liked how each scythe is somehow a representation of the character who wields it. That, along with the special drink for reapers and other details felt like a nod to the Harry Potter books.
Croak’s inhabitants are all entertaining and interesting. Characters like Uncle Mort and Driggs have a lot of potential and I believe there are many stories to be told about them which I’d love to delve into in future books.
Speaking of Driggs, he is such an entertaining partner for Lex! Their constant bickering and squabbles are hilarious, fresh and surprising. At the beginning, they are just too much alike to get along which leads to some funny scenes that had me snickering more than once. Throughout the book, they struggle to develop a real friendship, a very close relationship that didn’t feel rushed or forced but very natural. I also adored how he seems to have an almost unhealthy appetite for sweets when nervous and how excited he can get about something as weird as road kill.
Lex is an interesting female lead. I was afraid that she was too intense for me at first, but she slowly grew on me and I ended up liking her a lot. She is not the most sensitive of all characters, yet her she does evolve by the end of the book.
While a large part of the story was about Lex settling in Croak and being shown the ropes of her job, I wasn’t bored by it. In fact, I really enjoyed getting to know the peculiar little town and its memorable habitants. The story arc about the killings starts later in the book, but is engaging and remains a mystery until the end of the book. The revelation of the killer is accompanied by an unforeseen event that changes Lex’s life profoundly. I’m eager to find out how she will deal with the aftermath in the next book.
Despite the rather funny and sassy tone of Croak, the book deals with some very serious topics as well: death, loss and child abuse being just a few of those. While it is mostly only hinted at, the violent and dark pasts of Lex’s fellow junior reapers add just another layer to their characters and made me even more curious about them.
Gina Damico’s debut is a fun and fast read I can only recommend. I’m really looking forward to her next book, Scorched to see what awaits Lex on her journey.
Check out the hilarious trailer for Croak: