Reaper Review: Gina Damico’s Scorch and Croak
Lex Bartleby would be the first to admit that she has some ‘behavioral issues.’ When her violent tendencies and lack of impulse control finally push her parents over the edge, they ship this 16 year old miscreant off to spend the summer in the tiny town of Croak with her Uncle Mort. Despite the abundance of clues in nomenclature alone, Lex is surprised to learn that her uncle is not the mild-mannered farmer she has always thought, but a Grim Reaper. And so is Lex. It turns out that Grim Reaper is a job category restricted to individuals who are “one of a very select group of people who are endowed with the power to transport souls from this life to the next.” Lex’s Uncle Mort suspects that she has the same power as him. Individuals begin to show a certain ‘aptitude’ for the job in adolescence. The same aptitude that has been getting Lex into trouble at school – her uncontrollable and seemingly unfounded bouts of anger.
While Lex is with her Uncle for the summer, she becomes an apprentice Reaper, training to become the real thing, complete with partner. You see, it actually takes two to harvest the soul of a dying individual. Lex’s partner is a real winner, the moody, taciturn, drumstick-weilding Driggs. Their rocky relationship continues to provide a major source of humor in the novel, even as it turns from antagonistic to romantic.
It turns out that Lex has more than just an aptitude for being a Grim Reaper. She has an ability that hasn’t been seen in years. Unfortunately, this ability is matched by a growing desire to seek vengeance for the souls of the murder victims she is obliged to reap. And when some of these murderers begin to die, suspicion falls on Lex.
For a novel that relies heavily on snark and cliche, it is a surprisingly refreshing tale of adolescent angst and the search for self and place in the world. Complete with bad guys, mystery, intrigue, and cool weapons and supernatural powers.
Scorch picks up where Croak left off, and it’s a good thing, too, since Lex royally screws the pooch at the end of Croak. (I don’t want to give it away, but suffice it to say that instead of defeating the villain, she manages to donate her extra special powers to the villain’s cause. Whoops.) What follows is an epic road trip for Lex and her fellow apprentices as they try to catch the bad guy and prove to the other denizens of Croak that they aren’t, in fact, the evildoers themselves.
The third book in the series, Rogue, came out in September and will be top on my TBR pile once I have enough loose change to darken the doorway of my local bookselling establishment.
I highly recommend this series for ages 12 and up, especially where good storytelling with a heavy dose of snark is appreciated. Try it with some of your ‘I’m too cool to read’ patrons. They just might find, like Lex, that things are not always what they seem.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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