A Review of Croak (Croak #1) by Gina Damico
Houghton Mifflin, 2012
by REBECCA, June 24, 2013
From Goodreads: “Fed up with her wild behavior, sixteen-year-old Lex’s 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 shoveling manure. He’s a Grim Reaper. And he’s going to teach Lex the family business. She quickly assimilates into the peculiar world of Croak, a town populated by reapers who deliver souls from this life to the next. But Lex can’t stop her desire for justice—or is it vengeance?—whenever she encounters a murder victim, craving to stop the attackers before they can strike again. Will she ditch Croak and go rogue with her reaper skills?”
I actually picked up up Croak at BEA last summer but hadn’t quite been in the mood for it, but I needed a light airplane read recently, and Croak seemed to fit the bill perfectly—with the added bonus that I was able to use its shiny silver cover to reflect the glare of the reading light directly into my sister’s face whenever she least expected it! No, I promise, it was really funny; I’m not an adult or anything. Anyway, I’ve stolen Gina Damico’s quippy signage for the title of this review because I think it sums up Croak so well:
First of all, Lex’s real name is Lexington Bartleby and her twin sister is Concord (Cordy)—their mother loves American military history—which I assert is hands-down the best set of twinly names ever.
Lex doesn’t know why she’s turned into such a moody monster lately (her classmates have taken to calling her Tyrannosaurus Lex”), or what’s made her take to wearing a black hoodie every day, especially when her twin has remained unaffected. When she gets to her uncle Mort’s, though, it all becomes clear: the sudden fury is the sign of a natural reaper, and black hoodies are their uniform. Best. Summer. Job. Ever. Finally, Lex has found something she has a talent for, and some people who seem like they could be real friends. Sure she has to keep her new life a secret from Cordy, and, okay, so she seems to experience more pain than the other reapers when she does her job. But, still, the town of Croak (population 82) is swiftly becoming Lex’s favorite place ever. Until someone starts killing reapers—and Lex is at the top of the suspect list.
Ok, so the first impression of Croak is that it’s funny and fast-paced. There are definitely cool world-building things in the town of Croak, a rural town inhabited only by reapers, with a flower shop called Pushing Daisies, a mattress store called The Big Sleep, a grocery store called Bought The Farm, and other death-related puns. And, like all worlds where our protag is an outsider and needs everything explained to her, we get it laid out for us in complete, info-dumpy detail. It’s clever, and Damico wants to make sure we notice—still, it’s done with humor, which makes it pretty palatable as these things go.
We meet Lex’s fellow junior reapers—teenagers are, no surprise, excellent reapers due to their teenagery anger. There’s Zara, the buttoned-up responsible one; Ferbus, the geekily manic one; Elysia, the sugary sweet, friendly one; Kloo, the motherly one; and Ayjay, the athletic one. And, of course, there’s Driggs, Uncle Mort’s houseguest and Lex’s new partner who has “romantic interest” written on him from their initial angry meet-cute in their shared bathroom.
what were this book’s intentions? did it achieve them?
It takes a while for the whole introduction to the concept of reaping and Croak to unfold and the core of the story to start—the first third of the book or so—and then the tone shifts from light to more intense. It’s a good and necessary shift, but having set the story up as seeming so ironic and frivolous, it’s jarring to start viewing it in the light of real threat and fear that begin when the junior reapers begin to see a disturbing pattern in some of the deaths when they’re reaping. A mystery begins to emerge and the last third of the book is dedicated to solving it.
The two main strengths of the book are 1.) its humor, and 2.) its concept, which has the potential to reach tentacles out in multiple directions, while also building a deep culture of reaping. For example, Croak allows them to chat with folks in The Afterlife—folks like Elvis, Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, George Washington, etc. The thing is, though, that the humor begins to wear thin as its repeated throughout the book, and the world begins to feel a little bit like it’s being shaped more to accomodate the plot than to capitalize on the cool concept. The most promising thing in the book is the notion that to these reapers, death is just a day job—hence Croak’s gallows-humor-meets-infomercialese. Thus, when reapers begin to be the target of murders, their sense of invincibility and the detachment that their jobs breed can all be turned topsy-turvy. And while Croak gestures toward this limply, the stakes of such a reversal never really come to fruition.
All in all, Croak was a cute, fun read with a hint of teeth in the second half and an unquestionably dramatic (if not unpredictable) turn at the end. I enjoyed it, definitely enough to want to read the sequel, if not enough to want to hang out with Lex. But if Uncle Mort invited me to Croak for a tour, I’d be down for a day trip.
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride (2010). While working a fast-food job, low-key Sam finds out that he’s—you guessed it—a necromancer. And there’s another creepy necromancer who wants something from him. Book two in the series, Necromancing the Stone, is out also.
Thirsty by M.T. Anderson (1997). Chris is turning into a vampire in a totally non-romantic way while he is also forced to be that most curséd of all beings, a teenager. Thirsty is also a combo of funny and scary, but with a little more desperation thrown in. My complete review is HERE.
procured from: I received a copy of Croak from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Croak (Croak #1) by Gina Damico is available now.