RIPL Teen Book Reviews

“Rotters” by Daniel Kraus

(Grade 10 and up) After his mother’s death, Joey Crouch, who’s spent his entire life in Chicago, is sent to live with the father he’s never met, a mysterious man named Ken Harnett, who lives in Bloughton, Iowa, where he’s known by locals as “The Garbageman.” At first, Joey is desperate to get back to Chicago. In Bloughton, he’s bullied mercilessly, his biology teacher does everything he can to make his life miserable, and Harnett is rarely around. He disappears for days on end, leaving Joey without food or money, and when he returns, he smells terrible. Most people think that Harnett steals from people’s garbage and makes his living from what he can sell, so one night, Joey follows his father to find out what’s really going on. The truth, when Joey discovers it, will lead him down a dark road that will change everything he thought he knew about his father, life, and death.

“Rotters” is one of those rare books that’s as terrifying as it is strangely comforting. I listened to the audio version, and the narrator, Kirby Heyborne, does a great job of capturing different characters’ distinct voices and emotions. While the relationship between Joey and Harnett is the heart of the book, as is what a complicated thing the relationship between any father and son can be, death and all its biological realities are also examined, with both fascinating and horrifying results.

To be clear: this is a genuinely frightening book, precisely because it isn’t populated by any monsters or supernatural forces. Many of the living people in this story are far scarier than anything Joey and Harnett unearth during their nocturnal errands, and this is important in my mind: some of the scariest things I’ve ever read have been like that. (Honestly, I quit reading “The Walking Dead” because the humans started to scare me more than the zombies.) I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I reveal that this is a book about grave robbing—the book jacket does that—but let me just say that if you think you’re used to the kind of gross descriptions you often find in horror and fantasy novels, be cautious. To put it bluntly, if you eat yogurt while listening to a description of rotting corpses, you’re gonna have a bad time. You’ve been warned: this was an intense, disturbing novel that I won’t soon forget. (4 out of 5 stars)

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (April 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385738579
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385738576 (Source of Publication Data: Amazon.com)