Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Dark, Disturbing, and Magnificent
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!