After maiming one too many of her classmates, sixteen-year-old Lexington "Lex" Bartleby gets shipped off to upstate New York to live with her Uncle Mort for the summer.
Unsurprisingly, she is displeased. Shoveling manure may be good for the soul, but Lex would rather watch tv. In her less rage-filled moments, she does understand why her parents are at their wits' end, though: after all, up until pretty recently, she was as much a paragon of virtue as her beloved twin sister Cordy.
When she finally arrives in Croak, she discovers that it's not your average farm town... and that she's not your average angry young woman. She, like her Uncle Mort, is a Killer.
In her Croak-issued uniform (a black hoodie), with her official scythe and her annoying (but, if she's being honest, quite attractive) partner Driggs, she's expected to spend ten hours a day reaping souls. Which—despite the awesome method of transport and entertainment value of witnessing Edgar Allen Poe squabble with Teddy Roosevelt—is a bit of a drag, given that she has to strictly adhere to Killing the people on her list. She's not allowed to use her power to enact vengeance as a vigilante, no matter how much Certain People might deserve it.
Then, though, she and Driggs stumble across a completely unexplained death—which, for people in their line of work is totally unheard of—and then another, and another, and another. And when she finds out that all of people dying mysteriously Had It Coming, well. Her difficulty with the whole non-judgemental thing skyrockets, as she isn't so sure that the murderer is really in the wrong.
Imagine a punnier (<--Not a typo. There's lots of wordplay in the place names and foods and so on.) Percy Jackson that stars a crabbier, older heroine. Croak is fun stuff. The amount of fun you have will depend very much on both your mood and your sense of humor, and it's safe to say that if the first two lines make you laugh:
Lex wondered, for a fleeting moment, what her principal's head might look like if it were stabbed atop a giant wooden spear.
"I can't imagine why you're smiling, young lady," Mr. Truitt said from behind his desk, "but I can assure you that there is nothing funny about this situation."
that you'll have a lot of fun with it. I did.
Lex is crabby and grumbly and—if you can relate to that—eminently easy to identify with, despite the oddness of her situation, and the author deserves bonus points for writing about such a crankypants protagonist in the third person. There's a large, mostly-boppy cast of characters, and the romance is cute, so while the skin-tone-as-food descriptors made me twitch and I didn't the find the dialogue consistently believable, I did find it consistently funny, engrossing, and entertaining. The solution to the mystery, itself, isn't so hard to figure out, but the plot definitely went in a direction I wasn't expecting. (Although, during my post-read mull, I realized that it completely made sense for the author to Do What She Did.)
Gina Damico has created a cool world—Croak itself is fully realized, with businesses and ways of dealing with tourists and so on—and the mechanics of Death itself are cool as well. The scenes in the atrium of the Afterlife are nerdily hilarious (I will forevermore picture Thomas Jefferson as someone who scampers), show warm affection towards the inhabitants, and made me wish I could visit for reals. (<--Not really possible, though, as tourists get fleeced and mind-wiped, living residents of Croak are all either Killers or Cullers, and residents of the atrium itself are, well, dead.)
Like I said, fun stuff. I'll definitely be reading the sequel.
Book source: ILL through my library.