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Rotters Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 5, 2011

4 out of 5 stars 66 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews




"A strongly written tale of adolescence, grave robbing, and the mysteries of death, ROTTERS is uncompromising, dark, and true."
--GUILLERMO DEL TORO (Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth)
& CHUCK HOGAN (The Strain Trilogy)

"This is an unforgettable book. An unforgettable character. And an adventure that leads to unforgettable horror. I loved it."

"Grueling, demented, and so crammed with noxious awesomeness that I had to read it twice."
--SCOTT WESTERFELD, Leviathan and Uglies

"Profoundly affecting and deeply disturbing, ROTTERS kept me reading to the wee hours of the morning. A multi-layered, complex novel that pulls no punches. Terrific!"
--RICK YANCEY, The Monstrumologist

"This is a bold, utterly fearless, uncompromising story told with such skill, with such beauty, and with such depth of focus it just warps the fabric of reality. I'm in awe of this book."
--MICHAEL GRANT, the Gone series

Starred review, The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May 2011:
"A masterly touch at thriller pacing, Kraus gives the current crop of pretentiously serious supernatural YA novels a wild run for their money."

Starred review, Booklist:
"A tour-de-force combination of reader and writer."

School Library Journal:
"A gripping and emotional tale."

Kirkus Reviews:
"A cerebral romp through a fascinating, revolting underworld."

"Twists and turns will leave readers gasping."

"As suspenseful and masterfully told as it is gruesome and terrifying. You'd be hard-pressed to find a coming-of-age story as satisfying as this."--Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother and coeditor of Boing Boing

"Grueling, demented, and so crammed with noxious awesomeness that I had to read it twice."--Scott Westerfeld, author of the Uglies series

"This is an unforgettable book. An unforgettable character . . . and an adventure that leads to unforgettable HORROR. I loved it!"--R. L. Stine

"A multi-layered, complex novel that pulls no punches. Terrific!"--Rick Yancey, author of The Monstrumologist

"Uncompromising, dark, and true."--Guillermo Del Toro, coauthor of the Strain Trilogy and director of Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth, and Chuck Hogan, coauthor of the Strain Trilogy

"A cerebral romp through a fascinating, revolting underworld."--Kirkus Reviews
"One of the darkest, wildest, most unsettling adolescent novels I've ever come across. . . . Kraus is absolutely original."--The Millions

"A new horror classic."--Fangoria

From the Author

A note from author Daniel Kraus


The genesis of Rotters came to me ten years ago. I was driving away from the North Carolina coast, trying to outrun a hurricane, when I passed a cemetery. An image popped into my head: two men battling through the swampy, corpse-ridden mud to find some valuable object. I didn't know who these men were or what they were after, but the vision was apocalyptic and exciting.

A few years ago, I began to give serious thought to those two nameless figures. I've always liked horror movies and had started to take notice of all the great grave robbing scenes. They were everywhere, from the obvious classics (Frankenstein), to new blockbusters at my local multiplex (Drag Me to Hell), to more obscure fare I'd catch late-night on TV (like the must-see Mr. Sardonicus). One constant stuck out: grave robbing was always kept on the periphery, as if it were something even the filmmakers were scared to dwell upon. And so I thought, what if you did dwell upon it? What exactly would you see?

Months later I found myself on the winning end of a stack of history books about "resurrection men"--nineteenth-century grave robbers hired to steal bodies for use in medical school dissections. You might expect I'd be disgusted at their adventures; instead, I found myself greatly impressed. There was an art to it. And like all arts, it was something that could be passed down, master to apprentice, or--even more interesting to me as an author--father to son.


Rotters is a story about a boy named Joey Crouch who loses everything--his mother, his friends, his home, even his one talent is rendered useless--and then out of desperation turns to Ken Harnett, his mysterious and threatening biological father, only to find that Harnett is, in fact, the dad he's always needed. And this truth is in spite of--or maybe partly because of--what he does in graveyards under the cover of night.

I knew right away the biggest challenge in writing the book would be to generate sympathy for people who did something so repugnant. But I also knew right away that sympathy was possible, because the passing on of treasured information is by its very nature a tender act. Even Harnett's initial coldness is a form of tenderness: it's meant to turn Joey away from a dangerous and lonely life. When Joey is finally let in, he suffers a training period as cruel as that of any budding concert pianist, but what drives this merciless routine is, once again, love. The secrets Harnett reveal to Joey are no less than the secrets of mortality and how we deal with the promise of our own demise. It's heavy stuff, no doubt. But if handled with a little style and a lot of guts, I knew it could be the stuff of great literature, too.

We've all seen those time-lapse films of the decomposition of a dead animal. At first, it's gross. But then the flesh's constant reinvention becomes fascinating, and, after a while, even sort of beautiful. It is my hope that Rotters has a similar effect--that if we, writer and reader, look hard enough together at something ugly, it might just transform into something magnificent.

Even before joining his father in the family business, the complications in Joey's life are legion: he's an outcast and his dad is the town pariah--not to mention that awful smell. But these burdens are nothing when compared to those of the men Joey meets: the underworld of grave robbers known as the Diggers. These Diggers are proud knights fighting for a dying kingdom and have given their entire lives to a labor no one will ever appreciate. Joey's arrival and his relationship with Harnett forces the Diggers to wonder if they've wasted their lives. Surely no lurker of graveyards deserves a gift as great as love. This is a world of darkness that Joey has plunged into--and we haven't even gotten to Harnett's would-be brother Boggs, whose jealousy runs so deep that he'll stop at almost nothing to make Joey his own son.

Darkness is a defining characteristic of Rotters. But it's worthy to remember that darkness is just that--it's dark--and what is being concealed in the dark is not just the horrible and fearsome, it's also the inspirational and moving. Horror means nothing without happiness; dark means nothing without light. Rotters may make you feel frightened, but hopefully it will also make you simply feel.  It's that kind of book, or at least I hope it is.

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Read an excerpt from Rotters. [PDF]

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (April 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385738579
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385738576
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,539,782 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Daniel Kraus has landed on Entertainment Weekly's Top 10 Books of 2015 (THE DEATH AND LIFE OF ZEBULON FINCH), won two Odyssey Awards (for both ROTTERS and SCOWLER), and has been a Library Guild selection, YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults, Parent's Choice Gold Award winner, Bram Stoker finalist, and more. He co-authored TROLLHUNTERS with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, and his work has been translated into over 15 languages. Visit him at danielkraus.com.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
What an incredible read. Rotters brings to life a secret society of men dedicated to the art and heroism of grave robbery. Connoisseurs of death, these men are throwbacks to the 1800's when the resurrectionists made their way by supplying the living with dead bodies. Take all of that and mix in a story of a teen coming of age,dealing with grief,and even school bullying and you get a story that is as complex and multi layered as any in YA literature.

Joey is sixteen when his mother is killed and he is forced to go live with a father he's never known. This starts his downward spiral into what some may call madness and despair but what Joey comes to consider as excitement and belonging. He's a marvelously well developed character and it's the strength of this portrayal that propels the story along. I felt his despair so keenly and his struggles were so realistically portrayed that I was glued to the page.

This story is not for the faint of heart. It's gross, intense, and often terrifying. It's probably the darkest story I've read in quite a while. It grabs you right from the beginning with Joey's frenzied descriptions of all the ways his mother could die, and doesn't let up till the very end. In between the reader is treated to some incredibly memorable characters. Every person we meet is nuanced and portrayed in such a way that you feel like you know their deepest secrets and true natures.

Rotters reminded me of Rick Yancey's The Monstrumologist. It exhibits the same high quality writing and often times gruesome subject matter, only in a contemporary setting. They are still quite different, but they both have intricate stories that are uncommon for this genre.

There are some truly lyrical descriptive passages in this book.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have to take a deep breath here because my enthusiasm for Rotters is such that my review might quickly decompose to incoherent gushing.

This is the highest praise I can give:

If two of my favorite books got together and made a child, Stiff by Mary Roach and The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey, Rotters would be that unholy Frankenstein child - a breathlessly macabre creation of horror and pathos.

Death is all over this book, fear of death, physical death, emotional death, death of hope. Joey has been sheltered all his 15 years by his beloved mother, but when she dies and he goes to live with a father he's never met - Joey is pitched into a bleak and ugly new existence - and that's BEFORE he meets his first corpse.

As the son of the creepy and stinky "Garbage Man" (as Joey's father is called by the townspeople) Joey quickly becomes his new school's pariah. He is beaten almost daily, terrorized by a sadistic teacher, and has no friends. High school is a horrifying place and his cold father and dreary home is no comfort.

With ordinary society so putrid in its treatment of Joey, is it any wonder then that he becomes drawn to the mysterious world of grave robbing - his father's secret occupation? Joey buries himself in learning all about the underground realm of grave thievery composed of strange, solitary men loosely held together by pacts and old-fashioned codes of honor. Here, grave robbing is a calling and an art, almost noble in its tradition going back to the Resurrectionists of the 18th Century. Almost noble, but not quite - for nightly, Joey descends the underworld of foul, rotting corpses, Rat Kings, maggots, severed limbs in pursuit of jewelry and precious mementos to pawn.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Rotters is the tale of Joey Crouch's unique and morbid adolescence. When Joey's mother dies he's forced to go live with his father who he's never met and has no desire to meet. As Joey is tortured at school and neglected by his father his life seems completely unbearable. He then discovers that his father is a Digger, part of an infamous history of grave robbers. Joey begins to learn his father and the business during their nightly adventures. No detail of the grave robbing is left unexamined so this is certainly not for the squeamish. I learned more than I ever needed to know about corpses and what happens to a body when put in the ground leaving me even more in favor of cremation when my end comes! The story is grotesque and will certainly leave an impression on the reader. Unfortunately it's just not my cup of tea. I was struggling by the end to finally finish it. As much as I respect the writing and how the character of Joey and the grave robbing are so vividly written I never really connected with the story. It was certainly an experience but not one I'd be willing to repeat.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Rotters" is, on the surface, a simple story. Joey Crouch lives with his mom in Chicago. They're very close. Sometimes it borders on smothering, but he's all right with that. He's never been out of Chicago, but that doesn't bother him too much, either. He's basically a normal kid living a mostly normal life.

This changes when his mother dies. Crushed and shocked, Joey is even more horrified when he finds out he must go live with his father. A man he's never met, a person his mother never even spoke of. Someone he's barely heard of, the reason his mother refused to leave Chicago.

And Joey has to uproot and live with him.

Life is harder for Joey than he had ever imagined. For no reason, he is immediately ostracized and tormented at the school. Joey has no room there, no bed. There isn't even any food. When, several days into his stay, he desperately searches a classmate's purse for lunch money, a teacher catches him. Rather than pry and see what the trouble is, the teacher takes it as an excuse to torment Joey as terribly as any classmate.

As for Joey's new home: the house reeks. The rotten stench infiltrates everything.

Joey's father Harnett is a mystery, and a mean one at that. He has a reputation in this new town. He's known as the Garbage Man. Yet it's obvious he doesn't have any part in public service. He disappears for days at a time. Joey doesn't mind too much, though.

But this shaky peace dissolves when he finds a container full of gold teeth in his father's room.

The awful truth tumbles out swiftly. The stench, the absences, the strange behavior of his father--it all comes togeter. Ken Harnett is a graverobber.

To my surprise, "Rotters" was stunning.
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