19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
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. Never has putrescence been described so beautifully and extensively. A foul odor permeates this story; Joey goes to school every day stinking of the grave, his father carries the odor as does their house. The author did such an effective job setting this scene that by the end of the book, I was certain that the odor really had begun to leak from the pages.
While there is not a lot of pulse pounding action here, the gruesome nature of events and the strong characters will easily keep readers flipping the pages long into the night. An insightful examination of death, the relationships between fathers and sons and ultimately the value of life, Rotters is a chilling look at things most don't want to think about. Best for older teens and adults, the vivid imagery and the characters are the stars of this show. A recommend only if you dare.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
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. In sharing his father's shameful secret, a rough and unusual father-son bond develops between the two and Joey becomes his willing apprentice.
Of course Joey pays for entry into this morbid world of the Diggers when he turns his back on the living, whom he calls the Rotters. He digs himself into a black abyss of pain so deep that I was genuinely uncertain if he would ever climb out of it.
Rotters must have flaws, but I cannot think of any. I've been yearning for a truly dark YA book and now I've found one who's got dark in spades and then some: the corpses, the father-son relationship, the fascinating history of grave-robbing, the characters, the brilliant but mad villain, and sharp writing.
Your nose will wrinkle in disgust, you will shudder, you will want to turn away, but you won't because as twisted as Rotters is, you will be too thrilled to stop turning the pages.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2011
"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. Lyrical and poetic even in the midst of its darkness, it broke my heart and made me laugh just as often as it disgusted me. High school cruelty and teenage pettiness mixes perfectly with meth-head graverobbers and ongoing tragedy. All through the story, Joey's character develops beautifully, and so does that of his father. In fact, all of the characters are fantastic. The plot is by turns delightful, shattering, triumphant, and, as so many others have noted, demented. Don't let the subject matter turn you away. "Rotters" is a gorgeous piece that is ultimately about one young man's plunge into the abyss and his struggle to climb out.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
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!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2015
After his mother -- who we only know as an overprotective mom and later, in flashback, as a manic pixie dreamgirl a bunch of disgusting thieves lust after because she's such a hottie-- dies in an unexpected accident, Joey Crouch is sent by a frazzled social worker to live with his impoverished father who he's never met and lives in another state. Nobody does any sort of background checks on him to see if he's a suitable parent. Joey takes the train to a place he's never been, walks miles to his father's filthy foodless house, and settles in for misery. The social worker never follows up with him, his best friend's parents (who are like family to him) never follow up with him, and after he steals money from a locker after several days of not eating, smelling rank, the school staff members who hate his father do nothing to get him removed from his father and placed in foster care. Why is that? Because nobody in this book acts the way humans act.
Joey is passive and sullen. Stuff in the book doesn't make SENSE. Like, Joey allegedly loves Jazz music and loves playing, yet only practices his trumpet when his mom forces him to. He moves from a big Chicago high school (NB: a lot of Chicago high schools have amazing music programs) to a tiny rural high school with a much smaller music program, and despite being hot stuff at his previous high school he's horrible at the new one barely able to play his instrument. Wh... what? Why? Joey laments how filthy his clothing is, but doesn't try to wash them in his sink at home, or take them into to town to use the laundromat. He just wears the same clothing for literally a year.
I kept waiting for some supernatural element to pop up and explain things, like Joey's dad is a ghoul who needs to eat dead human flesh or he's got some kind of mission to lay the restless dead or prevent zombies/ghosts/vampires and that's why he's creeping around in graveyards. Nope. He's just digging up corpses to steal other peoples' things, and rationalizing it because back in the past times Resurrectionists dug up corpses (or murdered people) to supply medical students with cadavers. There's no reason other than greed for his dad's activities, but we're meant to find this hostile, violent, abusive man sympathetic because REASONS; Joey joins his dad's work because REASONS. This book suffers from a strong dose of "It's In The Script."
I regret wasting the time and brainpower it took to finish this book. I should have bailed on it much sooner, but kept waiting for something interesting to happen, something that made sense. Instead it kept getting more and more ridiculous.
I'm not even going to touch on the sexism, homophobia, or fat hatred in the book.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I'm not even sure how to review this book. It was so dark and terrifying, yet so enthralling, I can't even bring myself to talk about it. I know it was written as a young adult novel, but it defies all boundaries and rules the genre set down. Rotters by Daniel Kraus defies all boundaries, adult, young adult, and everything in between. If you go into this book thinking you know what is going to happen, you are going to be sadly mistaken!
Joey's mother dies in a freak accident and he is shipped off to live with his father who he never met. When he gets to the filthy hovel his father calls a cabin, Joey knows live has changed forever. His father disappears for days, and with no food in the cabin and no money, Joey is literally starving. When he is caught trying to steal money out of a locker to buy lunch after days without a meal (or seeing his father), he confesses his living situation to the principal. They put him on free lunches and summon his father to come to the school as soon as he returns. When his father finally comes back home and goes to the school, it is clear they forced him not to leave Joey alone, and Ken Harnett is not happy about it.
Harnett starts getting anxious and slips out at night occasionally. After snooping around the cabin, Joey assumes his father robs recently deceased people's homes. He follows Harnett one night and discovers something so gruesome he can barely process it: Harnett is a grave robber. He digs up graves and steals the valuables, expertly replacing every piece of dirt or tuft of sod so no one knew he was there. Joey is oddly interested and insists (blackmails) Harnett into taking him on the next dig. On his rookie run, Joey is in for the lesson of his life that changes his very sense of being.
After working for a time with Harnett, they head off to witness the relocation of an entire cemetery: an event that brings all the Diggers together, despite their strictly observed territories. It is here that Joey meets the other Diggers and starts to learn about the mysterious culture and rules surrounding them. The Diggers are a mix of strange men, some who take solace in books, one looks like a deranged Santa Claus, but they all have something in common... they are all loners. For Harnett to not only have an apprentice, but for that apprentice to be a son is a defiance of all Digger rules. The superstitious group grudgingly accepts Joey, but one Digger is feared and avoided by all: Baby. Raised as brothers, Baby and Harnett have a tumultuous history, but Baby's rapid downward spiral into drugs, delusions, and a deranged psychosis makes everyone nervous about his presence. When Baby takes an interest in Joey (and even thinks Joey is his son at times), things begin to get dangerous. But nothing can compare to biggest desecration of the most important grave in Joey and Harnett's life. Can Baby be stopped? How far will he go in his madness? Do the Diggers deserve redemption?
This book will not only break down every boundary of humanity and society you think you know, it will also take twists and turns you didn't think possible. Joey is your normal, average kid who ended up in a crappy situation, but his move changes his very being, making the Digger in him seep deep into his bones. He becomes a different person, not just one who is bullied in high school and has a crush on the Queen Bee, but one who sees people at their most vulnerable- their final resting place. It makes him more of a loner, willing to acknowledge that the Digger's solitary life doesn't just protect the Digger, but also the people around them.
I don't know how to describe my feelings for this book because I almost feel dirty or embarrassed to have liked it! It was one of those creepy stories that you can't help but get sucked into, but can you really admit you liked it? It was so morbid and disturbing that I really don't think I have every read another book like it. This book is a true original, and you won't be the same after the first pages you flip through. Just like Digger life changed Joey, it will change you too.
For the sole reason of content, I would save this book for an older reader, maybe 11th grade and up. It is very mature and deals with some really heavy ideas and societal norms. Discussions about desecration of graves and eternal resting places are sure to come up, but the problem is this book precludes those discussions from being black and white. It will change every way you think about things you always thought were clearly right or wrong. There is some mature language, but that isn't the reason to save this book for a more mature reader, it is the shear morbid content that requires it. I suggest reading this book before you share it with a student so you know who is up for the strange and disturbing ride. You will love this book, but you won't know how to feel about the fact that you love this book!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Joey is a typical nerdy kid growing up in Chicago. He and his mother don't have much money, but she's a good mom and he's a smart, well-behaved teen. Then Joey's mom meets with a most unfortunate end, and Joey is scooped up and sent to small-town Iowa to live with a biological father he's never met.
From the beginning, this is a disaster for Joey. His father is the town joke, the guy that all the kids laugh at and the local adults avoid. He smells. His house is filthy and isolated. He has no friends and absolutely no connections in this little town. Joey feels like an intruder, alone with his grief and angry at having all that's familiar ripped away from him; he's an unwanted afterthought. His father makes no accomodations to feed or clothe Joey, and Joey is left to fend for himself. He soon finds himself as the dreaded high-school archetype: the bullied and scorned outsider. If he could wish himself away, he'd leave all of this behind. How could his life get any worse?
Curious about his father's long absences - where does he go for days on end? - Joey stows away one night in his dad's truck. What he discovers not only explains the absolutely putrid smell of his new home, but also sheds much light on who his father is and why his mother left the man behind years ago.
That's how life can get worse. Or at least even more complex.
Joey still has to go to the high school where he is ridiculed by students and teachers alike, where his only friend is an equally taunted guy who has mastered the art of not being seen. But now he also becomes his father's apprentice, delving into the gruesome business that has consumed his father's life for decades. Joey enters a different world - a world where fathers make their living by scavenging, a world that has no place for biology tests, dating, or family dinners.
I was blown away by this book. I admit that I thought it was dragging for a while, and I was wondering where the story was going to go. But once it grabbed me, I had to read straight through to the bizarre finish. The writing is so lyrical and haunting, and Kraus allows the tension to build naturally. Joey is a hyper-observant character and it is his precise observations that build the characters. Graphic images are almost poetic in their descriptions, and the novel blends gothic horror, mystery, family drama, and mythology; there were times that I felt like I was reading a Greek tragedy.
I'm amazed that this is a Young Adult novel. It has elements to appeal to all readers and is one of the more literary YA works that I've read in quite a while. This is a novel that will stick with me for a while; there are images that are still fresh in my mind even days after finishing this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Joey Crouch has a pretty normal life. He lives with his mom and plays trumpet in the band at school. His whole world is turned upside down when she dies in a tragic accident and he is forced to lived with his estranged father, Ken Harnett, in a rural town. Life in this new town couldn't be more different. Teasing and bullying are common occurrences and he finds himself at the bottom of the pecking order, mostly because he lives in squalor with his father who is commonly known as the trash man. Their relationship is shaky to say the least and they don't communicate well. After a while, it becomes clear that Harnett makes his money stealing things from graves. After the initial shock, Joey wants to learn about this new trade that opens the door to a new world full of strange, grotesque characters, horrific sights, family secrets, and himself.
I had never heard of this before getting an advance copy and still have not seen this book in a store. It's surprising because this is a great read that can easily appeal to both adult and older teen readers. Rotters is a unique and very dark coming of age story that centers around the distasteful profession of robbing graves. I've never read a book on this subject, but I figured it would be pretty disgusting and intense. It delivered that in a big way. Decaying corpses, rats, foul odors, and maggots are described in the most loving and beautiful detail. The grave odor that permeates Joey's life is so well described that I feel that I can practically smell it as I read. Daniel Kraus' masterful writing almost leaps off the page.
The other amazing thing about this book is the characters. Each one is richly imagined and after reading the novel, these characters still stayed with me. Joey in particular is a wonderful character that changes drastically throughout the course of the book. At first, he's consumed with grief over his mother's death and strives to get straight A's in school. Then he moves to Bloughton and is constantly bullied because of his father and the stench that follows him. I really felt for him because of both the bullying at school (by teachers and students) and the horrible treatment from his father. He reacted weakly to the abuse and seemed to accept his lot in life. During the second school year, his demeanor changes. His confidence grows and he lashes out in an incredibly satisfying way. He leaves to learn from another digger, but this one is an enemy of his fathers. After the exciting finale, Joey is just himself. He comes into his own with some scars and aches, but with his own sense of self instead of what others try to push onto him. Even though it was encased in gruesome detail and grave robbing, Joey still experienced what most of us experience in our transition from child to adult.
Rotters is an exceptional young adult book that isn't afraid to delve into dark, gruesome territory. I would only recommend this to people that are fans of horror and those that aren't squeamish. I will definitely read whatever Daniel Kraus writes next.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2011
Joey Crouch has lived a sheltered life in Chicago with his eccentric but loving mother. After she is tragically killed in a bus accident, Joey is sent to live with the father he has never met in the small town of Bloughton, Iowa. Not sure what to expect, Joey's worst fears are realized when his new smalltown life fraught with unhappiness: his father, Ken Harnett, is an unkempt and unfriendly man who immediately lets Joey know that his presence is not desired. Joey is treated horribly at his new high school, constantly mocked, bullied, and abused by students and teachers. Joey does find some solace in the company of his friendly band teacher who encourages him to continue playing trumpet, a skill fostered by his mother. But as Joey's life becomes more and more depressing, even music seems pointless in the endless monotony of torment. One night, Joey decides to learn the truth about his father's odd behavior and hides in his truck as he leaves for another one of his late night trips. Joey soon discovers Harnett's secret: he is a professional grave robber, or Digger, who makes a living pawning the treasures he steals from the dead. At first, Joey is horrified. Soon, however, he is drawn into the mysterious world of the Diggers as Harnett teaches him the finer points of uncovering a corpse.
This tense and often disturbing novel packs a powerful punch on many different fronts. The opening of the novel outlines the strange relationship between Joey and his mother then quickly jumps into the events following her death. After Joey arrives in Middle America, the juxtaposition of his experiences at his new high school and the "adventures" he has with his father makes for an interesting but also horrifying plot. Once Joey learns that he is good at his father's craft, he uses digging as a means of escaping the torment, abuse, and bullying enacted upon him at his high school. The satisfaction the reader feels at Joey's overcoming these obstacles is curious in light of the fact that it is obtained through his enjoyment of grave robbing with his long-lost pops. Graphic descriptions of what can be found six-feet-under, including such phrases as "coffin liquor" and "the boneyard blues," make parts of the novel difficult to get through in a stomach churning way. These horrors, however, are what make Rotters such a unique, utterly original, and highly memorable novel. Kraus does a fantastic job of turning something as disgusting as grave robbing into a means for a father and son to connect. The novel, while written for young adults, definitely has a place in adult literature as well, and can be enjoyed by any reader who wants something truly different from anything they've ever read.
Wow. This is certainly different from any book I have ever read, and was, at times, very difficult to get through. I'm not sure what to make of it. It is very well written and the characters are engaging, but in a horrifying way. Kraus dives head first into the utterly macabre, and only brave readers should dare to follow him into the world six-feet-under. While the novel will make your stomach turn, you will find yourself unable to wait arriving at the fascinating conclusion. I will definitely remember Rotters for a long time.
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