This is the most important, dangerous, and incredibly entertaining YA novel you will ever read. Daniel Kraus knows his stuff, and he intends to not only prove it to you, but to also set the bar for YA fiction so high that nobody will ever be able to reach it. For better or for worse, Daniel Kraus owns this part of the genre.
The general first impression, so I’ve found, of YA fiction (within the horror genre) usually falls into the “ugh…why?” category. While completely unfair, uninformed, and painfully ignorant – it’s of one of those issues that you really have to be in the midst of to completely understand.
I’ve read a lot of YA fiction. My wife and I run KinderScares, a website dedicated to horror in children’s fiction. Reading YA and all manner of things geared towards kids comes with the territory. I’m by no means an authority on the matter, but I’d say I’m well versed in the world of YA fiction. To that end, I’m willing to go on the record to say that this book transcends the YA label, and straddles the line between the younger and older reading audiences perfectly. This book defies actual grade level/age designation. Rotters is a perfect example of the point that C.S.Lewis was trying to make when he said
“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”
This is a book meant for a certain age group, but can be enjoyed by everybody. This, in my opinion, is the most perfect book on the YA market today. Hands down.
Grave robbing. What kind of monster would do such a thing? It’s true that Leonardo da Vinci did it, Shakespeare wrote about it, and the resurrection men of nineteenth-century Scotland practically made it an art. But none of this matters to Joey Crouch, a sixteen-year-old straight-A student living in Chicago with his single mom. For the most part, Joey’s life is about playing the trumpet and avoiding the daily humiliation of high school.
Everything changes when Joey’s mother dies in a tragic accident and he is sent to the rural Iowa to live with the father he has never known, a strange, solitary man with unimaginable secrets. At first, Joey’s father wants nothing to do with him, but once father and son come to terms with each other, Joey’s life takes a turn both macabre and exhilarating.
Again, I want to reiterate the fact that this book is incredible. Not only for it’s high concept, but also for the delivery of the story. First person narrative is, in my opinion, only worth reading when done properly. That said, good first-person-present-tense literature is a rare find, for me at least. This, my friends, is the rare find I’m talking about.
Kraus’ characters are so vivid and compelling that the reader has absolutely no choice but to be completely enthralled while reading. The main characters are painted in a wonderfully colorful way, even for such a dark a grisly book. Their actions dance across the page within the miasma of Kraus’ landscape, really punching their way into the mind of the reader. It’s through the eyes of Joey that we see the little nuances that make small town life so different from city life and, eventually, utterly different from the lives of those who live on the fringe of everything else. His father, on the other hand, shows the opposite end of the spectrum. Harnett, Joey’s father, represents a return to the earth and an old-school mentality of getting things done. His hardness, and Joey’s inherent softness mix beautifully – creating such a brilliant character study of opposites, and exactly how much they sometimes need each other to survive.
Kraus goes more than a step beyond what readers would expect from their standard YA novel. He presents the reader with a scenario, poses a few questions, and then answers every single one in 448 pages. One can fully picture Kraus creating this tome in his literary laboratory, his sole intention focused on bringing the reader to their knees. Where one author might take a high or low road with their fiction, embracing good or evil, Kraus is all over the board. He proves, word after intimately placed word, that an author dosn’t need to stick to formulaic, safe, or comfortable notions in order to create a tale that is enjoyable. Kraus’ daring is bound to revolutionize the YA landscape.
And speaking of landscapes, where Kraus really shines is in his talent to lay out a scene so perfectly, that the reader doesn’t need to do a lick of imagining to picture exactly what he’s saying. The words are so perfectly chosen, so well laid out, that the undeniable feeling of filthiness that follows a lengthy bout of grave digging just settles over the reader’s hands. There were so many instances in this book where I had the feeling that I should shower immediately after reading. I couldn’t help but be in awe. To have such strong, vivid pictures basically fed to you during the course of the reading is such a relief, and really lets your mind run free to wander in and out of the words like a sort of home-away-from-home. When those pictures are as visceral and disturbing as some of the images that Kraus offers up, well, let’s just say that discomfort is bound to rear it’s ugly head, but won’t get in the way of the entertainment and fantastically engaging scenes within.
Like I said at the beginning of this review: this is the most important, dangerous, and entertaining YA novel you will ever read. For its daring and delivery, I’ve got to stand up and shout out loud for this book. The re-readability is massive, as I’m sure there’s more hidden from plain sight than first viewed. Kraus really aims big with this novel, and does not fail to deliver. I’d say he’s succeeded in spades, fashioning the very best YA novel I’ve ever read, and one of the best stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. End of story.
His website is here, and you can contact him on Twitter here.
Do yourself a favor: Go pick this one up and read what is truly destined to become a classic in the YA genre. I’m actually going to go out of my way to find a copy of his first novel – Monster Variations – so I can bring myself up to date with his work. If Rotters was this good, I can only imagine what an amazing story lies between those covers.