Thursday, April 30, 2015

Book Review: Rotters

This book is not for everyone. I would even have thought it not appropriate or welcome to me, given the creepy subject matter, frequent expletives, unsavory characters, and disturbing plot development. However, I did find much to embrace in this novel. I was especially drawn to the writing. This author has a rare gift for dissecting a moment. Like the main character in the story, who "specifies" to avoid facing upsetting situations, this author narrows in on the minutest details of every experience, like a microscope highlighting the infinitesimal. It was, indeed, a thing of beauty and something I wish I could emulate in my own writing (although I doubt I have that skill or ability). Moreover, the narration by Kirby Heyborne was an experience to remember for a very long time.

In Rotters, we meet sixteen-year-old Joey Crouch, one of the few male teenage characters I have ever met who openly expresses his devotion to his mother. He adores her and depends upon her in their quiet existence in Chicago, where he practices his trumpet and achieves straight A's in order to please her. Thus, his world is turned upside down when an unfortunate accident kills her and Joey finds himself shipped off to Iowa to live with a father he barely knew existed. Because his father is known around town as the "garbage man," Joey is instantly the butt of jokes and bullying as the "son of the garbage man." But what is more horrific than the bullying and the challenges of being a new kid in a small rural town, is the fact that Joey's father is, in actuality, a grave-robber. The two live in a stand-off for a while, until Ken Harnett (the father) decides to apprentice his son for the trade.

The author certainly did his research, presenting countless facts and interesting details about graves, decomposition, and the history of grave-robbing. The characters he created are vivid and despicable. There's the bully who is alpha-dog in his small Iowa town. The attractive girl who only pays attention to Joey because she thinks he has connections to big-wig theater types back in Chicago. The loner who befriends Joey and introduces him to heavy metal music. The host of characters, known as "diggers," who work in separate territories, digging up graves for their material spoils. Once Joey snapped and decided to seek revenge upon the bully who taunted, the girl who rejected, and the teacher who humiliated him, the plot grew darker still and a bit unbelievable, but it was still an entertaining romp of a tale.

This book is certain to appeal to teenage boys, especially reluctant readers. It is full of things boys find fascinating like bullying, revenge, biology, dead bodies, and creepy gruesome activities. Writers will benefit from reading this book for instruction on so many great skills like character development, plot development, realistic use of dialogue, world-building, and microscopic description. I had to be very careful listening to the book. I couldn't just have it on when my boys were around, for fear that shouting expletives would explode from the soundtrack. Nor did I listen to it while doing dishes when a few workmen were around, because I was worried they'd think I was a nutter for the type of stuff I was listening to - ha! I still can't believe I liked it as much as I did, but for a reader who is willing to put up with bad language, horrible bullying activities, despicable evil, and gruesome details, it will provide a story which will stick with you for a long time to come and introduce you to a world you would never want to visit in reality. Somehow the author manages to bring brilliance and raw humanity from the seedier parts of life and death. I'm with author Michael Grant, who said, ""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."

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