Gut Reaction Review
Author: Gina Damico

Lex Bartleby used to be a model child. Good grades, good friends, everything was good good good. But when Lex turned 14, something began to go wrong. Now 16, she is one visit to the principal’s office away from being expelled. Lex doesn’t know where the anger comes from, only that it manifests suddenly, unavoidably and violently. She steals, swears and has punched, bit or otherwise assaulted nearly every member of the student body.

Her parents are at their wits’ end, and not even twin sister Cordy can get through to Lex. So in a last-ditch effort to turn her delinquency around, they ship her off to spend the summer with her Uncle Mort, whom she hasn’t seen for years and looks like he stuck his finger in a light socket.

When Lex arrives in Croak, it looks like the most backwater, Podunk town that has never heard of Starbucks that she can imagine. But her fears of spending the summer shoveling goat poo turn out to be all for naught when Mort reveals the town’s true purpose – its inhabitants are Grims, responsible for transporting the souls of the deceased to the Afterlife.

Blasphemous as it sounds, this book is fun fun fun. Despite the fact that it revolves entirely around death, you don’t need to worry about getting bogged down with mopey feelings. I think this can largely be attributed to the fact that it isn’t intended to be a spiritual book, or even horror. Religion is purposefully kept out of the picture, freeing up the fictional Afterlife to be an all-inclusive place where souls are free of pain and former American presidents can childishly gang up on Edgar Allan Poe.

One of my favorite aspects is that all the inhabitants of Croak are super snarky, making each new piece of dialogue as entertaining as the last.

“Driggs!” Ferbus yelled into the spidery Lair, where Driggs had wandered to get away from their constant squabbling. “Your partner is threatening to neuter me!”

“Yeah, she does that,” Driggs said from within.

That being said, author Gina Damico doesn’t make a tasteless joke out of death. The Grims make light of their work to keep from being dragged down by it, but it is made very clear that they take the business of transporting souls extremely seriously. They are not the judges of people’s souls, nor do they have the right to inflict deaths that haven’t already occurred, something Lex struggles with at the scenes of murders and other senseless crimes.

I didn’t really have any expectations going into reading this, other than I was looking for something quick and light to read on my phone three minutes at a time while microwaving my lunch. Croak definitely fit the bill. The plot races along and it’s highly event-driven, making it easy to pick up in short spurts without having to delve into long stretches of characters’ internal musings. It was easy to get into even reading on my phone, and when I was almost done, I happened to look over at one of my bookshelves.

Croak2

There it is, second from the left. Oops. I actually had no recollection of acquiring this copy until I opened the cover and saw the telltale penciled-in scrawl of our local used book store.

Lack of awareness about my personal possessions aside, Croak was enjoyable enough for me to immediately download its sequel, Scorch, for another round of microwave reading sessions. Croak gets just serious enough for there to be solid plot for future installments, but not so world-weary that Scorch loses sight of the fact that its protagonists are wise-cracking hormonal teens. The Grim world is purposefully unrealistic in the most entertaining way possible, making it a perfect choice if you want something that’s just plain fun. So grab a black hoodie and join the party!

 

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