Author: Daniel Kraus
Reviewer: Joel Witter
I took the time over the Thanksgiving holiday to read a book given to me a while ago by a co-worker. Along with being a full-time high school English teacher, and all-around rock star, he also finds time to review books. And he suggested this one. Any reader who willingly slogs through the morass of mediocrity in published books knows what’s worth reading.
Rotters by Daniel Kraus did not disappoint. After reading the beginning, I had to read it with my students. While they all know I tend towards strange, they were completely bowled over by it. Rarely do I get both shock value, interest, and complete revulsion, as I did when we read the first chapter–the conflict that sets the story in motion. Joey Crouch’s mother dies, and so he is sent to live with his father, who is a grave robber as the back of the book makes very clear. Joey doesn’t discover this for a while, but what he does discover are the myriad antagonists that exist in small town middle-America, playing on stereotypes, and rising to them without doing much more.
What follows is a story that has all expected ingredients, and a dozen unexpected ones which made the book almost impossible for me to put down. As an English teacher it had an overabundance of exquisite language that engaged me while the story played out, a story that remained engaging even when I saw the plot twists coming, and central characters who feel full-bodied and warm-blooded–almost like friends of my own. For high school students, it has a hero every student could be that no one hopes to be–instantly recognizable and yet completely alien. For guys and girls alike, it has the macabre details of death and destruction and the history to go along with it.
It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. After visiting the book’s website (because everything has a website these days) I’ve come to find out it received generally positive reviews, and won several awards–none of which I’ve heard of. But if that isn’t a strong enough recommendation, I only have to tell you I’ve had at least six different (and by different, I mean completely different) students request a copy of the book to read and one of their independent reading books after we read the first chapter in class.
If you’re not absorbed and compelled by the first chapter, you don’t deserve all the treasures this book holds.