Khanh the Killjoy

Death is hilarious

Croak - Gina Damico
Lex turned her scythe over in her hands once more, unable to take her eyes off it. “It’s amazing.”
“And so dark, too,” said Zara. “I’ve never seen one that dark before.”
Uncle Mort rolled his eyes. “So it’s agreed, the scythe is totally dreamy.” He stood up and grinned that unglued smile again. “But it’s nothing more than a butter knife until you put it into action.”

How do you make a different girl, a special girl into a main character that doesn't feel like a Mary Sue?

- Make her a juvenile delinquent
- Make her angry, but not unreasonable
- Make her likeable and sympathetic, despite her attitude
- Don't let her hate other girls
- Don't make her fall into insta-love
- Give her room to grow

And, most importantly, give her the hottest Grim Reaper uncle in the whole wide world.

Sitting atop a black and purple–streaked motorcycle was, in a startling number of details, the exact type of villain depicted in the Never Talk to Strangers! picture book that had been drilled into Lex as a child: a man six feet tall, in his late thirties, lean but strong, roguishly attractive.

Because I have priorities, man!

This was a great book, a strong main character, light on the romance, a wonderful and well-built setting. The writing is fantastic. It's filled with humor and love interests who would rather punch and kick each other than make googly eyes over corpses that they're supposed to be Killing. (Not killing, Killing. There's a difference besides the capitalization, I swear!)

The Summary:

She had begun acting out in every way that a frustrated bundle of pubescence possibly could: she stole things, she swore like a drunken pirate, and she punched people. Nerds, jocks, cheerleaders, goths, gays, straights, blacks, whites, that kid in the wheelchair—no one was safe. Tyrannosaurus Lex, as they called her, was an equal opportunity predator.

Lex is an angry, angry 16-year old girl. One could call her a juvenile delinquent. It wasn't always like this, Lex was once a loving twin sister (she still is, actually), a good daughter (not so much anymore), a straight-A student. But then a few years ago...something within her changed. Lex can't even explain it herself.

She just felt angry, all the time, at absolutely nothing. And whenever she tried to pinpoint the reason why, no matter how hard she tried, she was never able to come up with a single, solitary explanation.

Well, sadly, Lex has bit her last classmate (they don't call her Tyrannosaurus Lex for nothing), because her parents are at the end of their ropes. Their last resort: Sending Lex away to spend a summer with Uncle Mort on his farm.

Great. Fantastic. A summer in the middle of fucking nowhere, on a farm. With cows and sheeps and no internet and no phones and away from her parents and beloved twin sister. A summer with old, fat, balding Uncle Mort, right? Well...not exactly. Uncle Mort is hot. He rides a motorcycle, and he looks like someone who's going to kidnap innocent young girls.

Peeking out from underneath his sleeves were samplings of what was undoubtedly an impressive array of tattoos, and a red, craggy scar ran from his right earlobe to the corner of whatever sort of eye hid behind his sunglasses. Clearly, this was a man who would waste no time in snapping the neck of anyone who happened to piss him off.

Which, actually, he does when Lex doesn't obey him.

“You don’t look like family. You look like a freak.”
“Okay, Lex,” he said, revving the engine once more. “I didn’t want it to come to this, but you leave me no—” His eyes widened at some unknown horror behind her. “Is that a bear?”
“What?” screeched Lex, twisting around to cower at —nothing.
But that millisecond of falsely placed terror was all Uncle Mort needed. Deftly grabbing her around the waist, he chucked her onto the seat behind him, kicked the bike into gear, and tore down the road as if blasted from a cannon.
“I can’t believe you fell for that!” he yelled over the roar of the engine.

Uncle Mort practically kidnaps Lex and takes her to the town of Croak. Population 78...well, 80 now. But Croak ain't exactly a farm village...and Uncle Mort isn't a normal uncle. He's a Killer (again, not the same thing as a killer), he releases a dying soul from the body. Lex is going to join the family business by becoming a Killer herself, and she's going to have to cut the juvenile delinquent bullshit or else.

“You may have gotten away with this childish, petulant bullshit back home, but I assure you, it’s not going to fly here,” he said, letting go of her arm. “So I’ll cut you a deal: you behave like the mature individual that deep down I know you are, and in turn, you will be treated as such. Sound fair?”

Being a Killer is a pretty sweet gig, if it weren't for stupid boy Driggs occupying the same house and pissing her off and making fun of her. Lex gets her own scythe, she learns to do an essential job, she makes friends (and quite a few enemies). There are moral dilemmas that Lex is going to have to get the fuck over if she's to do her job.

Family or not, Uncle Mort means business. There will be no fucking around here. Lex is going to have to grow up, and fast.

His face was inches from hers, his eyes fiery. “Lex, if you’re not just being a smart-ass, if you really do have a problem with all this, now’s the time to say so. If you’re hesitant, you’re a liability, and if you’re a liability, you sure as hell are never going to be a Grim.”

It's not as easy as collecting souls, there's something bigger at stake here; Lex and her friends uncover something strange: someone's been killing people...and that someone may be one of them.

It's going to be one hell of a summer.

She had a job to do, and she sure as shit was going to do it.

The Setting:

“I told you it wasn’t here, Quoth. Has anyone seen my cravat?” he shouted to no one in particular.
Lex fell right out of her hammock. “What the—are you Poe?”
“Regrettably.” He sighed, smoothing his pants. “Call me Edgar. Or the Tell-Tale Fart, that’s Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite.” He shot a distasteful glance at the crowd of presidents. “Jerks.”

AHAHAHAHA. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. The setting is absolutely fabulous. The town of Croak itself is adorable and quaint, with a 50s-style diner that serves food with names like "Mad CowBurger, E. Coli Cola, and the gag-inducing Salmo-Nilla Ice Cream." The town inhabitants fuck with the unfortunate tourists who accidentally wander inside (Uncle Mort is so opportunistic), milking them for money (like $50 for bird-watching fees). It's just delightful.

The premise of Killing and Culling itself was very well-done, there's the Killer who don't actually kill: they release the soul from the body. Every Killer works with a Culler, who collects the soul, puts in a Vessel, and then release the soul into the Afterlife. There's a complex system of collecting souls, and levels of hierarchy that was believable, as well as fun.

And the Afterlife, Edgar Allan Poe, whom you met up there, is one of the many inhabitants. The system of what happens after death is explained, too, with enough room for ambiguity so that there's no HORRIBLY SERIOUS QUESTIONS about the existence of God. As an atheist and sometimes Buddhist, I am completely unoffended. This book portrays an interesting, sometimes silly, altogether readable system of Death.


"You’re here because you’re special, and you’re special because—well, I don’t like throwing around words like ‘destiny,’ but let’s put it this way: this job chose you. Whether or not you reciprocate is completely your call.”

Lex is a special girl that I completely like. She is special, she has special powers, yes, but she doesn't feel like a Mary Sue at all. This is because she is such a tomboyish, angry, belligerent character.

I usually don't like angry, immature teenagers, but I found myself loving Lex. This is because the book made me feel like she doesn't really want to be that way, she's hurt, she's acting out for a reason that she doesn't even know.

It was as if her psyche had been infected with an insidious pathogen, like the viruses in all those zombie movies that turn otherwise decent human beings into bloodthirsty, unkempt maniacs who are powerless to stop themselves from unleashing their wrath upon the woefully underprepared masses.

Lex really is a success story, a believable story of a troubled young woman who just needs a hard hand and enough discipline to get her to walk the straight path. Lex does mature quickly and believably, and I appreciate that. It's all thanks to Uncle Mort.

Lex sat, stupefied. Over the past two years the various authority figures in her life had scolded, pleaded, lectured, cajoled, reprimanded, and threatened bodily harm, but none of them had spoken to her with anything resembling respect.

The Romance:

Ten minutes and two fights over the bathroom later, they slid into their seats at the kitchen table. Uncle Mort took one look at their matching black eyes and nodded.
“Yep,” he said to himself, drifting back to his newspaper. “That’s about what I expected.”

For much of the book, you might be a little confused at the romance because the two people involved, Lex and Driggs, are, well, punching each other's lights out.

Lex is an aaaaaaaaangry person. I think we've settled that, and she's more than met her match in the snarky, take-no-prisoner Driggs. She wants to hit him? Well, he can dish that out, too. Equality of the sexes, yo!

“You can’t hit a girl,” she said, rubbing her face.
“You hit me first.”
“So I was defending myself.”
Lex huffed. This was going terribly. “You can’t do that!”
“It seems I just did,” he replied with a stilted laugh.
She scowled. “You are not normal.”
“Neither are you.”

Lex and Driggs fight like cats and dogs, until they realize that they actually have to get along in order to do their job. Lex wants to do her job well, she doesn't want her memories erased, and she doesn't want to be sent home. This is where she's meant to be, and she will tolerate Driggs if she must.

Driggs doesn't baby Lex, ever. He never underestimate her strength, her intelligence. He respects her, he knows she can take care of herself. Theirs is a relationship built on mutual respect and gradual friendship rather than insta-love, and I ship that completely.

And man, they are so adorably AWKWARD at kissing.

“Why do you care so much?” she asked.
Driggs sighed. “Don’t you know?”
Then something happened in the next two seconds, but neither Lex nor Driggs would be able to recall exactly what. All they knew was that after it was over, their eyes met once again, this time in horror.
“Why did you just kiss my ear?” Lex asked nervously.
Driggs winced. “Because you turned your head.”
“I thought that tree...moved.”
Another moment of silence.

As awkward as my first kiss was, I'm pretty sure that has it beat. BUT MAN, IS IT ADORABLE.