Cindy: Teen literature is full of stories in which teens are exiled from school or home for bad behavior. Hidden Talents by David Lubar, Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie Tolan, Holes by Louis Sachar, Bad by Jean Ferris, and The School for Dangerous Girls by Eliot Shrefer are just a few. But Lex Bartleby of Croak (Houghton/Graphia 2012) is in for a killer punishment after her explosive anger gets the best of her one time too many. Lex is sent to Uncle Mort’s for the summer…to work with him on his farm. Or so her parents think. The reality? Uncle Mort is a Grim Reaper or, more officially, a “Gamma Removal and Immigration Manager” and he will be training Lex to help transport souls from here to the Afterlife. Her black hoodie is standard uniform here so she blends right in.
And so begins a wild summer of death and deliverance. Lex avoids calling home even though she misses her twin sister. She cannot risk letting the secrets of Croak slip out. Her work is not the only secret. Shortly after Lex’s arrival, strange unexplained deaths start popping up and Uncle Mort and Lex and her partner Driggs start digging for clues.
Damico creates a fun and wacky world (the playing of a “mangled conglomeration of Monopoly, Clue, Candy Land, Scrabble, and chess” is a hoot) with plentiful puns and wry observations of life and death. The cast of dead presidents and other famous folk hanging out near the reception desk in the Afterlife are entertaining, but more surprising than the ongoing debates between Lincoln and Booth or Emily Dickinson’s crying is Lex’s realization that she has found a purpose. Friends. A place where she belongs. The teens who bonded with Bug Smoot in David Macinnes Gill’s paranormal comedy Soul Enchilada will be equally bewitched by Lex Bartelby and the strange town of Croak.
Lynn: I get to talk about the sequel, Scorch (Houghton/Graphia 2012) that takes right off after Croak‘s killer ending. Zara is still rampaging through the Grim world and Lex and her friends have to get out of Dodge fast so they jump to fabled DeMyse, a hilarious Las Vegas-like town in the middle of the desert where no one seems too worried about Zara’s murderous frenzy. The snarky dialog continues and Lex has to decide if she will give in to Zara to save lives. Lots of foreshadowing leads to the next book and the coming war within the Grim world. Can’t wait!