Joey Crouch has a pretty normal life. He lives with his mom and plays trumpet in the band at school. His whole world is turned upside down when she dies in a tragic accident and he is forced to lived with his estranged father, Ken Harnett, in a rural town. Life in this new town couldn't be more different. Teasing and bullying are common occurrences and he finds himself at the bottom of the pecking order, mostly because he lives in squalor with his father who is commonly known as the trash man. Their relationship is shaky to say the least and they don't communicate well. After a while, it becomes clear that Harnett makes his money stealing things from graves. After the initial shock, Joey wants to learn about this new trade that opens the door to a new world full of strange, grotesque characters, horrific sights, family secrets, and himself.
I had never heard of this before getting an advance copy and still have not seen this book in a store. It's surprising because this is a great read that can easily appeal to both adult and older teen readers. Rotters is a unique and very dark coming of age story that centers around the distasteful profession of robbing graves. I've never read a book on this subject, but I figured it would be pretty disgusting and intense. It delivered that in a big way. Decaying corpses, rats, foul odors, and maggots are described in the most loving and beautiful detail. The grave odor that permeates Joey's life is so well described that I feel that I can practically smell it as I read. Daniel Kraus' masterful writing almost leaps off the page.
The other amazing thing about this book is the characters. Each one is richly imagined and after reading the novel, these characters still stayed with me. Joey in particular is a wonderful character that changes drastically throughout the course of the book. At first, he's consumed with grief over his mother's death and strives to get straight A's in school. Then he moves to Bloughton and is constantly bullied because of his father and the stench that follows him. I really felt for him because of both the bullying at school (by teachers and students) and the horrible treatment from his father. He reacted weakly to the abuse and seemed to accept his lot in life. During the second school year, his demeanor changes. His confidence grows and he lashes out in an incredibly satisfying way. He leaves to learn from another digger, but this one is an enemy of his fathers. After the exciting finale, Joey is just himself. He comes into his own with some scars and aches, but with his own sense of self instead of what others try to push onto him. Even though it was encased in gruesome detail and grave robbing, Joey still experienced what most of us experience in our transition from child to adult.
Rotters is an exceptional young adult book that isn't afraid to delve into dark, gruesome territory. I would only recommend this to people that are fans of horror and those that aren't squeamish. I will definitely read whatever Daniel Kraus writes next.
My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins