Author: Gina Damico
Genre: YA Paranormal
Series: Croak (Book 1)
Publication Date: March 20, 2012
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
ISBN-10: 0547608322 (Harcourt/Graphia)
ISBN-13: 978-0547608327 (Harcourt/Graphia)
Reviewed by: Kristie
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?
Quick & Dirty: The juvenile humor in Croak makes for quite a bit of laugh out loud moments. The setup to the world of Croak is well thought out. There are a few slow spots but ultimately the ending made up for all of it.
Opening Sentence: Lex wondered, for a fleeting moment, what her principal’s head might look like if it were stabbed atop a giant wooden spear.
Lexington Bartleby is a hellion. She is quick to tell someone off and even quicker with her fists. She is so hotheaded to bash someone’s face in that her fellow school mates have nicknamed her Tyrannosaurus Lex. Her parents are at their wits end, they don’t know what is causing her strange behavior. Up until two years ago, she had been a straight A model student who never got in trouble. Her family decides that for Lex’s own good she will go work on her Uncle’s farm in upstate New York for the summer, hoping it will teach her life skills and get her behavior under control.
Lex learns pretty early on why she is in Croak. Croak is a town inhabited by grim reapers; the businesses are all themed towards death. Her uncle doesn’t even own a cow let alone a farm. He gives her one night to let her think about the fact that she is a grim reaper. The next day she begins her training. She has a natural talent for killing, so natural that she receives a strong electric shock every time she touches someone who has died. On her first day she must kill a murder victim, a bullet hole is still smoking from his forehead when she releases his soul. His murderer is still standing there holding the gun. Lex wants nothing more than to touch the murderer but it is against the rules and is stopped before she does anything unfortunate. Her anger rises up every time she comes across a murder victim.
On her second day of training, strange and unexplained deaths start showing up. The deaths always have some cause attributed to it, but these strange white eyed victims drop dead long before they are actually supposed to die. Lex is now teamed up with Driggs, a good looking older boy, with two different colored eyes. As time passes more of these strange deaths turn up and when the town of Croak learns about it, they believe Lex has something to do with it since they started when she showed up.
Lex has a twin sister, Cordy, whom she has never been separated from for more than a day. Lex feels strange being away from her sister. There are so many rules to being a grim reaper and one of those is that she can’t tell anyone about what she can do. She avoids her sister now more than ever because she knows she cannot lie to her. Cordy will know she is hiding something. Lex risks having her mind erased just as she begins to have friends and the most fun she’s ever had in two years.
This book is full of juvenile humor. It’s good that I like that kind of thing, if you don’t then you may not like Croak. One of my favorite parts was when Lex’s mom ties her up with a jump rope because she wants to make sure Lex is paying attention to the conversation. Basically she’s tied up for her family’s health. I also enjoyed how the town of Croak loves to take advantage of lost tourists conveniently parting them from their money while running them out of town. The funny humor helps keep the tone of the book from being all dark and gloomy. Croak is definitely a young adult book. There is quite a bit of cursing in the beginning but it tapers off as the book goes on. The romance is light-hearted but inconsistent, while one second they are thinking about ripping off each other’s clothes (this doesn’t happen), then it shifts to not really describing the kiss that finally ensues.
Lex is a character that is trying to find her place in the world. She is a sympathetic character. She wants to fit in, do her job and also catch the bad guys, but if she does that, she will lose what she has built for herself in Croak. Lex is not a complex character. The decisions she makes are based on her own good than what she would really like to do, but when she sets her mind on something, she does her best to follow through.
The world-building in Croak is really well thought out, how the reapers travel, how deaths are discovered and other things that surround the world of Croak. There is still some mystery towards the world without giving everything away. Death and the afterlife are explained in such a way as to not turn away the casual reader. The pacing does slow down at times when explaining the world, but I expect that with a first novel in a series. I am looking forward to seeing how this world expands and grows.
In the end, what I took away from Croak was that in order to be a grim reaper you have to exhibit uber-violent tendencies and have a really strange name like Driggs, Zara, Kilda or Kloo. The humorous nature of the book kept me reading. Unfortunately, I did find the end a little predictable which made it much harder to read when it happened. Anytime a book makes me feel emotion, it makes it a wonderful read.
“How did you –“
“Experience. Once you’ve got enough of it, determining cause of death becomes second nature.”
The urge to search the ship for the guilty party quickly arose, but Lex remembered what Zara had told her the day before, and she reluctantly held it in check. “Oh, really?” she said nonchalantly as they scythed into the stands of a jam-packed baseball stadium. “Then how did this guy die?”
She pointed at the Target, a man bent over his souvenir program, oblivious to the events unfolding around him. Lex looked around, dazed. There was just something eerie about the silent scene of thirty-eight thousand screaming fans fixed in mid-cheer, players hovering in petrified dives toward the bases, and stationary beer splashing its thick globules across the stands.
“Experience,” Driggs said, frowning, “can also be a fickle mistress.” He peered at the field, then dropped to the ground.
“What are you doing?”
“Looking for a ball,” he said from underneath the seats. “Maybe he was hit by a line drive.”
“Yeah, right. I loathe sports as much as the next marginally intelligent being, but even I know a ball could never reach all the way up here. And even if it could, it wouldn’t be fatal.”
“True.” He straightened up to examine the man more closely. “No visible signs of injury, doesn’t look like he’s having any health problems. Go ahead, touch him.” Lex obliged, though something about this scene was starting to feel very off.
Drigg’s concern grew as he Culled the Gamma. “It’s like he just . . . stopped living. Maybe – “
He stopped abruptly, dropping to the floor once again. He peered up at the man’s face. “Look at this,” he said, his voice strange.
Lex crouched down beside him. “Whoa.”
The man’s eyes were completely white.
The Croak Series:
FTC Advisory: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Graphia provided me with a copy of Croak. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.
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