by Daniel Kraus
2011. 464 pp. $16.99 hc. Delacorte Press (Random House). 9780385738476. Grades 9-12
Mortality. In a modern take on Hamlet’s ode to Yorick , this gripping novel contemplates the fate of the body post-mortem, and visits the common YA motif of absent and estranged parents in a new and gruesome light. Through the voice of sixteen-year-old Joey “The Son” Crouch, artfully packed prose grapples with the beauty and horror of gore. “Rotters” refer to the rest of humanity who are not “Diggers,” those who make an art of disinterring human remains, removing valuables as a means to make a living. After his mother’s untimely death, Joey leaves Chicago for rural Bloughton, Iowa, where his father, Ken “The Garbage Man” Hartnett, lives in a squalid cabin eating onions like apples and plotting his next grave robbing expedition. In between trying to come to terms with his ‘Digger Dad’ Joey struggles to cope at his new high school: Woody, the privileged jock gets away with brutal hazing until he is disturbingly out pranked; Celeste, the girl with an incorruptible physique rotting internally with self-ambition; Foley, the metal head who teaches Joey “The Crotch” how to be invisible; Gottschalk, the sadistic Biology teacher; and Ted, the Band teacher who imparts the lesson of persistence. Kraus’ insight into the human spirit waxes out personalities that would be superficial in less masterful hands. Even so the truism that we are deeper than the sum of our exterior is turned on its head by the curious character of Boggs, a walking, talking putrefier who just wants to be loved. As the Diggers use their tools—Grinder, The Root, Harpakhrad—so the author renders the poetics of death. In the tradition of Poe and Hawthorne, the macabre has never been so delightfully solemn or so ghoulishly rewarding. Reluctant reader appeal. Boys will love this. Not for the squeamish.
Jenny Gapp, Librarian