Author: Gina Damico
Series: Croak #1
Cover Art: Veer & Carol Chu
Genre: Paranormal YA
Reviewed by: Julia
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?
For anyone who found Hogwarts a little too cloying for the adult palette, the tiny town of Croak will be much more to your liking. Croak has no drinking age, a thriving cottage industry of cheating tourists, and the adults as likely to berate teenagers as to provide wisdom or mentoring.
Despite the rough edges, this is the perfect place for our heroine. Though I’m usually not a fan of an angry protagonist, the sassy and funny Lexington Bartleby is filled to the brim with irrational anger. Billed in the description as a delinquent, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Lex’s reputation is no joke. She opens the book punching, kicking, swearing, and sassing her way to the edge of her family’s patience. And the solution is not navel gazing and ivy covered walls for Lex, she’s shipped off north to work ten hour days. CROAK is a hysterical parody of YA boarding school genre, and though that could make the story predictable sometimes, the wit and characters never lost my interest. Uncle Mort is a sexy, genius of a Dumbledore who grifts tourists for Ramen money. Driggs is the teenage heartthrob, and his awkward, adolescent chemistry is just about the best I’ve ever read. Lex herself has a degree of “Boy-Who-Lived” fame, but her notoriety comes from being the only recruit that comes from a loving, supportive family. Don’t let these character sketches fool you, however, CROAK has depth beyond parody. Damico does a great job of using gallows humor to turn a difficult subject into an entertaining romp, all without sacrificing the emotional punch that makes her characters to intriguing.
With it’s portrayals of teenage drinking, heartbreaking references to abuse and murder, and the very real anger issues of the teenage workforce, CROAK still manages to maintain a light, tongue-in-cheek tone that I found winning. And though the parody elements made some things predictable, Damico pulls no punches with her plot. The ending was a well executed surprise that has me very interested in SCORCH this coming September.