by Daniel Kraus
White light shocked us. Everything was illuminated in one instant of motionless clarity: individual blades of tall grass, bugs caught in the air like thrown pebbles, the mirrored surface of the truck, my father, his stunned expression, the handheld wire cutter, the sparkle of multiple jeweled rings, and, clenched in my father’s fist, wearing these rings, a severed human hand.
Book-a-likes: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, The Beach by Alex Garland (not YA), Lord of the Flies by William Golding
So the first thing I feel I need to do in reviewing this book is to reiterate the “contains” warning. Seriously. This is a book about a kid whose mom dies. He then goes to live with his estranged father, who turns out to be a modern day grave robber. And while the descriptions of rotting corpses aren’t showing up on every page, they are descriptive and scientific (ish), so my warning would be this:
If you can’t handle watching an autopsy on a show like Bones or CSI, you can’t handle reading this book.
If, on the other hand, you’re more like these two right here, well, then proceed on ahead…
Joey Crouch goes from living a middle-of-the-road existence with his mother in Chicago to living with his sketchy, doesn’t-even-own-a-phone father in the middle of some nowhere town. People in town call his father the trash collector, though no one’s ever actually seen him pick up trash before. They only know that he seems to have an endless supply of other people’s personal items to sell at all the local pawn shops.
Joey quickly goes from Crouch to Crotch and ends up right smack at the bottom of the small town high school food chain. It doesn’t help matters any that he’s pissing off the school’s #1 jock, crushing on that dude’s girl, pissing off the school’s most beloved teacher, and oh yeah…hasn’t washed his clothes since arriving.
Maybe because of all this, when Joey decides to follow his cantankerous father on one of his nightly escapades and discovers that the man robs graves for a living, his reaction isn’t quite what you’d expect.
He asks to go with him on the next run.
Now, a lot of Joey’s decisions throughout this book will make you question his sanity, but it definitely starts with this one. After much reluctance and some crazy test challenges, Joey’s father agrees, pulling him into a structured but well-hidden community of aging grave diggers, all out to rid the dead of their former belongings.
It also puts him in the path of a man called Baby (all the diggers have nicknames) who has an unusual fixation on Joey and his dad. And might just have lost his marbles somewhere along the way…
This book was long, I will say that. Every time I felt like I should be nearing the end or climax of the story, I’d check the audiobook and still had a looooong way to go. But I couldn’t pick one chapter to get rid of even if I had to. It’s all necessary to tell this story like it is. And what it is is a tale of one kid’s descent into darkness.
Joey continues to make morally questionable, and downright crazy-pants decisions throughout this book. And I can’t promise you there will be a real redemption for him. Even after his dad more or less gives up the lifestyle, Joey’s bound and determined to keep things going, taking on his own nickname and seeking a horrific revenge on behalf of the only kid at his school to take any real interest in him whatsoever.
Would I recommend this book? Only if all that above sounds interesting to you. Only if you’re okay with a morally ambiguous protagonist. It’s a good read, but it definitely has a specific audience that can/will appreciate it. So, if you dare, take a look. But don’t say I didn’t warn you….
Also, don’t forget to check out some of our other recent reviews….