Release Date: March 20th 2012
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Buy It: Book Depository
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 in Croak 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.From the instant I heard about this novel, it made me think of the television show I loved, but lost too soon, Dead Like Me. The fact that I was a huge fan of the show, meant that not only was interested to pick up Croak, but I had fairly high standards for what I wanted out of it as well. If it was just going to rehash what I'd seen on TV, then what was the point?
He’s a Grim Reaper. And he’s going to teach her the family business.
Luckily, Damico has taken the familiar concept in a totally brand new direction, and besides for the fact that George (from Dead Like Me) and Lex are both teenage grim reapers, the similarities end there. Lucky for Lex, she didn't have to die to become a grim reaper, though she did have to get sent away to the tiny and mysterious town of Croak to live with her over-the-top and scary uncle, appropriately named Mort. Mort's not the only one with a convenient name, Croak is jam-packed with them, everything from a gym named "Dead Weight" to other Grim towns like DeMeyse and Necropolis. Somehow, Damico manages to stop before going overboard, and instead just make the subtle death references really entertaining.
Lex isn't one of those main characters that is instantly likeable– she's violent and rude. Once she gets to Croak, it's not like her love of punching people suddenly makes her somebody I'd want to befriend, but it does seem more understandable given her career of killing people. Plus, fulfilling her destiny does mellow Lex out a bit. Still, I loved her angst and her dark twisted humour. Lex has such a sharp, clear personality, and I felt a connection with her that is hard to achieve in third person point of view, but which Damico executes* flawlessly.
As much as I enjoyed the relationship between Lex and her reaper partner, Driggs, there was one instance near the end that had me rolling my eyes a bit. Their snark was irresistible, and I just kept wanting them to make out already. Saying more about the event I disliked would spoil part of the book, but it involved a photograph and felt like it cheated the authentic development Damico had written thus far.
Croak is also a flat-out hilarious book, which is incredibly refreshing among a sea of paranormals that take themselves too seriously. Croak is a well thought-out and believable world, all the details seem to have been considered, but it's also filled with people who swear and joke and make the novel, despite its fantastical elements, seem completely real. I'm just glad I only have to wait a few months for book number 2, Scorch, due out in September. Croak is a fantastic, hilarious, cleverly brilliant start to a brand new series from a talented debut author and I just hope Damico has plenty of fresh puns stored up because I'll be eagerly awaiting them.
*pun fully intended