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.
I’ve been in a bit of a slump regarding books, having a really hard time finding something that really drew me in and held my attention (seriously, I have four that I’ve started and set aside just in the last couple of days). That was cured by Croak; I started this book and didn’t even THINK about reading anything else until this one was done. This book is very charming and has a wonderful sense of humor about it – sometimes sarcastic, sometimes just LOL-funny – which is especially interesting for me personally considering the subject matter. I mean, Grim Reapers and death isn’t really all that laugh-worthy, right? But in the world of Croak, and especially in the narration of our main character, Lex, it totally is. I loved every single second of this book.
First off, Lex is probably not what you would consider a wonderful main character, considering that when we first meet her, she’s in the principal’s office with her parents after getting into yet another fight. But the fact of the matter is that her inner monologue is simply hysterical; there’s really no other word for it. She has a very dry outlook on life, and it shows in her inner musings. She says exactly what she thinks, and doesn’t really care if her opinion bothers other people. And while she’s suddenly given in to these violent tendencies, the truth is that she doesn’t know why they came about or what happened to cause them, she doesn’t know where the anger has come from, and she doesn’t know how to stop herself from lashing out. You can tell that she’s just as confused as everyone else. So when her parents decide to send her to her uncle, she is of course hurt that they’d send her away, because they’re her parents and they’re supposed to love her unconditionally and put up with all her crap (not to mention that she doesn’t want to leave her twin sister, Cordy).
But then she meets Uncle Mort, and things suddenly become crystal clear: she’s angry and lashing out because she’s hit the age where her Grim Reaper blood has stirred. And this is when things got really fun and exciting. She meets a whole group of Juniors – kids around her own age who all have their own stories and histories and can exchange stories about their own falls into delinquency – and it’s at this point where I was just completely charmed by the entire world, all the characters, and the story itself. Lex is thrown headfirst into the art of Killing and Culling souls, and of course is paired with a ridiculously attractive guy named Driggs (who was also taken in by her uncle) and t~e~n~s~i~o~n starts to form between them, but it was done in such a way that it didn’t feel ridiculous or overdone and definitely couldn’t qualify for insta-love (which, thank God, seriously, because I would have hated to take away any stars!). On top of all of this, Driggs and Lex start to realize that something weird is going on, in that people are dying who aren’t supposed to be. And this is where the mystery and danger start to come into play and things got really exciting.
Now, I have lamented the fact that I have read several books already this year that use the “teenage girl tries to solve the crimes instead of leaving things up to the proper authorities” trope, but, again, this was done in a way that was different and refreshing, and, yes, I’m going to use that word again, just utterly charming. Mixed in with the strange deaths are all of these humorous asides like how random people have died (shooting themselves in the chest with a nail gun to kill the mosquito that had landed there, choking on a hamster, getting run over by an airlines luggage cart, etc.), and the fun things that Lex and her fellow Juniors do for fun (I especially loved the board game mashup!). It really helped keep the grimness (yes, pun intended!) of their occupation from getting too dark or overwhelming.
And then you had the mythology of the Grims, and the story of that one frightening Grim who took his powers and disobeyed the laws and killed for fun, which turns out to be a main focal point of the book and the overlying mystery. I probably should have seen the “bad guy” before it was revealed, but was so caught up in Lex and Driggs’ adventures and growing relationship that I didn’t. Needless to say, that part of the book – just like the rest of it – was well done and completely captivating.
The ending’s a little achy-breaky, though, and definitely sets itself up for the second installment (I believe there’s going to be three total), so be forewarned about that. But this was just such a well-written, fun and different book that I was utterly enchanted from beginning to end, to the point where I could hardly put it down. If you’re looking for a book that’s a bit different but utterly fantastic and hilarious, give this one a read. I would highly recommend it!
Some favorite quotes:
“The more bizarre deaths Lex observed, the more she was forced to admit that a lot of people were just plain imbeciles.” (pg. 172)
“Lex herself built a Jenga tower on Boardwalk, sank Driggs’s destroyer with a double word score, and captured a bishop in the Peppermint Forest with Mrs. Peacock, making it obvious that years of family board game nights had crafted her into a force to be reckoned with.” (pg. 193)
“Driggs gave her a look. ‘Don’t do that.’
‘That lame thing that superheroes do, where you push me away because you think you’re putting me in danger. I can make my own decisions, thanks.'” (pg. 304) (I just love this part because I HATE that trope just as much as Driggs apparently does.)
[SPOILERY QUOTE] “All I know is that I had never seen anyone like you, and your stupid smile was infectious, and I fell in love with it, and ever since you got here I’ve been falling in love with the rest of you, and now I’m so far gone there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. Okay?” (pg. 305) ♥ ♥ ♥ to infinity! [/SPOILERY QUOTE]
Also, a quick note on the cover: this picture really doesn’t do it justice. It is shiny and metallic and so awesome that, even if I hadn’t enjoyed the book itself so much, I would have been tempted to buy this book just to have the shiny on my shelves. As it is, the book IS awesome, so I don’t have to stress about buying a book I didn’t really like. Guess what I’m going to use part of my Barnes & Noble giftcard on?