Book Review: Rotters by Daniel Kraus

Normally I’m turned off by books targeted toward young adults that are 400+ pages, but I was totally captivated by Daniel Kraus’s new book, Rotters, right from the start and it easily defeated my page count stigma once I got deep into it.

It’s the story of a teenager named Joey Crouch who quickly finds his perfect life turned upside down.  He’s a straight A, trumpet playing student with good friends, living with his mom in Chicago.  When his mom is killed in a tragic accident, Joey is relocated to the small town of Bloughton to live with a father who Joey has never even met before.

His father has little money, lives in a small run-down cabin, and is often gone – obviously not ready or capable for caring for a teen. Joey finds himself alone and without food.  After a long walk to school, he awkwardly settles in as a new student but is quickly labeled as an outcast since he is the “garbage man’s” son.  The jocks nickname him “Crotch” and trip him in the hall, and even a teacher gives him a hard bit of humiliation in front of the class.

Back home, things don’t get much better between Joey and his father, especially after he learns that his father is a grave robber by trade.  It is here that Kraus pulls us into a strange and peculiar world, rich with century old history and full of oddities. The descriptions of trips to the graveyard will make you squirm, not to mention the putrid detail of the unearthed bodies. If you don’t like rodents, beware!  Here there be rats!

I had an instant connection with Joey, victim of circumstance, who is a good kid but just gives in to the peer hierarchy and accepts his fate at school.  He befriends another outcast named Foley who introduces him to heavy metal.  Joey adopts a Black Sabbath song as his anthem when he takes up his father’s trade both out of curiosity and as family lineage.

His father introduces him to a long line of grave robbers spread out in territories across the country, connected by an old peculiar minister who prays for their souls.  This is where we also meet our villain in the story – a grave robber named Boggs is also an outcast, like Joey, among his own kind. An outcast amongst grave robbers?  How low can you go?

Kraus sets up a bit of a mystery for the reader to solve and slowly feeds you the clues, making this a nice detailed and slow paced read.  I was anxious to get to the end to see what was going to happen, but I also didn’t want the book to end.

My heart embraced Joey at school when he was taunted or called names, or picked on by his pompous Biology teacher, and even when his band leader tried desperately to keep Joey interested in the trumpet. But our fate, no matter how sick, sad, or twisted, just has a way of catching up with us.  I didn’t want to see Joey succumb to grave robbing, but his brave, strong-willed attitude toward his father and toward learning the trade proves he’s determined to succeed at something.

Kudos to Kraus for giving his readers a true “underdog” story, but not a cliché version where our guy reigns on top necessarily.  Would you consider grave robbing success?  He does however approach teen bullying and even homosexuality in a true and honest way, giving young readers life lessons to take away with them outside of a weird, somewhat spooky, gross, and bizarre story that I absolutely loved.  I’ll be recommending this one to readers – young and old – for quite some time.  Rotters Rule! Well done!

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