Publisher: Graphia/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: March 20th, 2012
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?
(Courtesy of Goodreads)
What a pleasant surprise this book was! When I first heard about it, I wasn't sure it would be my thing, but by the time I was through the 3rd chapter, I knew that I was going to LOVE this book. Of course, I was right. Croak is GREAT! It had a little bit of everything; sometimes that can make a story a bit muddled and hard to follow, but that was not the case here. Croak was extremely well written and the different elements of the story fit together seamlessly. This book had humor, mystery, intrigue, drama, romance, realism, and fantasy rolled into one truly phenomenal adventure.
I think my favorite part of this book was definitely the characters. The protagonist, Lex, was smart, witty, insecure, and pretty kick-ass. I enjoyed watching her morph from a confused teenage delinquent into a happy girl who has found her place in the world. She was very real and easy to relate to. Then, of course, we had the boys. I loved that Driggs and Uncle Mort were both crush-worthy; Driggs for the teenage girls, and Mort for their YA reading moms... The supporting characters in the town of Croak were also great. We didn't see Lex's parents and twin sister much, but what we did see of them made for a few good laughs. Lex's Civil War obsessed mother was awesome, naming her daughters after Civil War battles (Lexington and Concord). The characters were all wonderfully developed, each with the right amount of emotion and humanity.
Obviously, the story was great, or I wouldn't be writing this gushfest, but the it wasn't the only thing that was great. The creativity and amazingly detailed world building were first-class. The town of Croak had so many brilliantly named businesses (a butcher called "Dead Meat", a florist called "Pushing Daisies"). I think one of my favorite parts was when all the teens were hanging out in the dorms and playing board games because instead of playing one at a time, they took them all and played a bizarre board game mash-up that involved Monopoly, Clue, Twister, Battleship, Chutes and Ladders, etc. I found myself laughing out loud at some of the rules. I also loved the real quality of the relationships, especially the awkward growing attraction between Driggs and Lex.
Overall, I have to say that this is one of my favorite debuts of 2012, and I have a feeling that it will stay near the top for the remainder of the year. This book completely drew me and made me smile almost the entire time I was reading it. Fortunately, the sequel to book, Scorch, comes out on September 25th, so there isn't very much of a wait as far as sequels go. One thing is for certain; I will be eagerly awaiting its release!
My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Grade Level Recommendation: There is some cursing, and definitely some death. There is romance, with heavy make-out scenes between two of the supporting characters, earning comments like, "Get a room!", but otherwise, this book is pretty clean. I would say this book is (conservatively) fine for 6th grade and up (ages 11+), but I would have no problem allowing my 5th grader to read it, and probably would have let her in 4th grade.