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Reviewed by:
  • Rotters
  • Elizabeth Bush
Kraus, Daniel. Rotters. Delacorte, 2011. [464p]. Library ed. ISBN 978-0-385-90737-8 $19.99 Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-385-73857-6 $16.99 E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-375-89558-6 $16.99 Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 9–12.

Joey Crouch’s mom must have had a good reason for never stepping outside the Chicago city limits and never discussing Joey’s father, so naturally Joey is thrown off guard to discover her directive that Joey should live in Iowa with his father, Harnett, if she dies. After Mom is struck and killed by a bus, the next thing Joey knows he’s sharing a tiny, reeking shack with a man who pays him no attention, and the boy is soon enrolled at a new high school where he’s instantly marked as a social pariah. As Joey’s anger mounts, he follows his father on one of his mysterious nighttime outings and discovers the source of Harnett’s paltry income and overwhelming stench—he’s a graverobber. Despairing of life on the straight and narrow, Joey entreats his father to teach him the trade. Harnett is reluctant; “Diggers” are a clannish lot, possessing meticulously observed boundaries governed by a pact, and they’re skeptical of anything that smacks of nepotism. Joey’s a natural, though, and the father/son team is on a roll until the unscrupulous and mentally imbalanced Digger, Boggs, who was raised and apprenticed alongside Harnett by their adoptive father, rejects the pact and comes after his rivals with intent to kill. Kraus concocts what must be a nearly unique subgenre—the thinking teen’s grossout thriller. With a clinical eye for the particulars of decomposition, a philosophical interest in the ethics of entombment, a keen knack for deploying burial metaphors to suffocating effect, and a masterly touch at thriller pacing, Kraus gives the current crop of pretentiously serious supernatural YA novels a wild run for their money. Who needs vampires and zombies when the living can so richly supply demented villainy?

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