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Rotters - now THIS is YA for boys!!!!

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Grady Hendrix

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Recently I was seized by the YA bug and started sucking down everything I could find, looking for the right book to scratch an itch I had but couldn't quite define. I must have ingested 20 or more books in the past week and while some were good, nothing was doing it for me. And then I read ROTTERS. Holy cow, this is not only one of the best YA books I've read in a while, it's a book that should be on the shelf next to WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS and A DAY NO PIGS WOULD DIE, as YA coming-of-age classics. Frankly, I wish it could replace CATCHER IN THE RYE in the canon. Even better, there is no way a teenaged boy could pass this book up or put it down.

A basic plot synopsis doesn't do it justice, but you need some solid ground to stand on and the premise is a combo of "Why didn't I think of that before?" and "Holy cow, WTF???" so here goes. Joey Crouch gets sent to live with his dad in a tiny hick town in the middle of Iowa after his mom dies. Being uprooted from Chicago is bad enough, being sent to Iowa is even worse, having to finally meet the father he only knows as the man who left his mother with a mutilated ear is like his own personal hell, but finding that his dad lives in total squalor, in a shack and has nothing in the house but old newspapers, bad smells and rotgut liquor is a hideous punishment that defies description.

And then he finds out that his dad makes his living robbing graves. And decides to learn from him.

I'm a squeamish kind of guy, so I read a lot of this book through my fingers because it is a symphony of rot, decay and ruin. Bloated corpses are described in prose that turns them into bouquets of exotic flowers, phrases like "coffin liquor" and "slip skin" become notes in a poetry of decomposition, the history of grave robbing becomes a breathless tale of heroic men doing brave work, and putrefaction is embraced so lovingly that you start to love it, too.

So many YA books revolve around kids discovering that they're the special magic savior of the world, that when you find one that's about a kid learning to embrace the life he's living in all its disgusting details it feels fresh and new. And there's something deeply subversive about a book that finds heaven in filth. Most books would dismiss with a pinched nose and barely a backwards glance  the homeless dudes, rotten corpses, squalor, bad smells, junkies, drunks, brain-smashingly bad body odor that ROTTERS is built out of. Here, it's the detritus of the world that's worthy of attention. It's the losers who need forgiveness that are the main characters. It's life's leftovers that provide the main meal. It's a book that is so resolutely outside the mainstream that I can't imagine a 14 or 15 year old boy reading it and NOT having his view of the world altered, at least for a little while.

I just finished it last night, so I'm on a bit of a high, but if there's a boy in your life - get him this book. He might be grossed out. He might never read it. He might just think it's no big deal. But some of them will read it and it will sing to him and he'll clutch it to his chest as his own very private, very personal Bible of the Bad Years.

ROTTERS - by Daniel Kraus. I wish I'd had it when I was 14.
#1 - August 23, 2011, 07:16 AM

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Hmmm, you wouldn't be Daniel Kraus by any chance, now would you?     :jacksparrow
#2 - August 23, 2011, 09:05 AM

Grady Hendrix

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Ha! I know, right? I should charge him for this kind of rave review. Fact is, I just finished this book and am still walking around on a cloud, which explains my (over?) enthusiasm. The fact that this book isn't getting a huge amount of attention (that I'm aware of) makes it feel even more preciously, completely MINE and I just can't stop hugging it to my chest and grinning like an idiot. Which probably means that I've overpraised it so much that any other reader is bound to be disappointed and let down.
#3 - August 23, 2011, 10:33 AM

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Just because "Grady" said he read 20 YA books in one week and just because his only post here is about Rotters and just because it sounds like a hyperbolic ad for the book doesn't mean... Never mind.
#4 - August 23, 2011, 11:16 AM
Author of SILVER PONY RANCH and ZEKE MEEKS series

http://www.DebraLGreen.com

Grady Hendrix

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Hey Debbie, I'm not "Grady" I'm Grady. That's my name - I just feel more comfortable using it online. So feel free to use it in a post without resorting to quotation marks. It'll save you the typing time. I am new to the boards, but I hope that doesn't automatically disqualify me from being enthusiastic about a book I just read. If it does, then I'm really sorry to have violated an unwritten rule and made you uncomfortable.

I was a huge YA reader for a while, but sort of fell out of the habit of reading it, and felt really out of touch with what was out there these days and so I just started reading a ton of it recently. Some of it was just soul-crushingly disappointing. Some of it was way better than I expected it to be. Pretty normal reactions, I'm sure, but I kept feeling like I wasn't finding something that was truly different. Something that would have thrilled my 14-year-old soul. ROTTERS did that for me. Kraus has written another book, but I'm probably not going to read it because I would hate to be disappointed if I wound up not liking it.

Anyways, sorry again if my enthusiasm was offensive.
#5 - August 23, 2011, 03:11 PM

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I read MONSTER VARIATIONS by Kraus as well and have rec'd it to teen boys at my lib who are looking for "dark and creepy." I might give ROTTERS a try....
#6 - August 23, 2011, 03:30 PM
BLACKOUT -- available now
DESERTED -- available now
SISTERS DON'T TELL -- available now
www.deenalipomi.com

Grady Hendrix

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So MONSTER VARIATIONS is good? I'm hesitant to read it because I'm so psyched about ROTTERS and it might be the pin that'll prick my balloon of enthusiasm. But it's good to hear that you enjoyed it, and I'd love to know more if you have time.
#7 - August 23, 2011, 04:34 PM

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Grady, are you the same Grady Hendrix who has published in Strange Horizons? I am sensing another adult SF geek. (Although seeing you link to io9 on another thread was what tipped me off.)

Jenn
(Also a Strange Horizons alum :)
#8 - August 23, 2011, 04:49 PM
Above World, 2/2012, Candlewick
Mirage (Book 2), 3/2013
Horizon (Book 3), 4/2014

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Let me see if I can find my review of MV from when I read it....
I DO remember it being like a "mental anguish" novel, where characters' fear is driven by their imaginations.
It also has a little bit of a Stand By Me/Stephen King but Lighter feel.....

Here it is! From Oct. 2009 (my livejournal entry):

THE MONSTER VARIATIONS by Daniel Kraus
Teens James and Reggie recall the summer they were 12 when their friend Willie lost his arm and another boy was killed by a hit-and-run driver. Dark and ocassionally gruesome, this book clearly portrays three boys' lives and how they change in one summer. Some of the other characters weren't as fleshed out and I wasn't sure why they got a POV at times, but overall a good horror-type coming-of-age novel.
#9 - August 23, 2011, 05:02 PM
BLACKOUT -- available now
DESERTED -- available now
SISTERS DON'T TELL -- available now
www.deenalipomi.com

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Welcome Grady! I see you've noticed we have a sense of humor here on the Blueboards. I figure we have to with all the depressing rejections we must endure.
 :grin2:  :crazy :flower
#10 - August 23, 2011, 09:08 PM

Grady Hendrix

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Hey! Thanks for the welcome! Just trying to make sure I don't set a foot wrong my first few posts here!

And yep, Jenn, that's me! By the way, I really loved THE DREAM FACTORY you published on Strange Horizons a while back. It's the kind of story that I love SH for.
#11 - August 24, 2011, 04:15 AM

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I'm sorry for being snarky, Grady. A few years ago someone posted an effusive review of a book here as his first post, and it turned out he was the author of the book he was "reviewing." So I suspected something similar from you. Plus, the diss on my favorite book, Catcher in the Rye! Sacrilege!

Anywway, welcome to the board. It's great that you're such an enthusiastic reader. I hope you accept my apology.
#12 - August 24, 2011, 07:50 AM
Author of SILVER PONY RANCH and ZEKE MEEKS series

http://www.DebraLGreen.com

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Welcome, Grady! How can I *not* give Rotters a try after THAT review! Too bad I don't have any boys around, but I'll give it a go.

(From the author of several books where kids learn they save the world! Ha! Oh well. I'm a cliche.)
#13 - August 24, 2011, 09:53 AM
Author of iPad apps, MG books, and women's fiction

Just because "Grady" said he read 20 YA books in one week and just because his only post here is about Rotters and just because it sounds like a hyperbolic ad for the book doesn't mean... Never mind.

Well, that's what I was thinking too, so don't feel too bad, Debby.  Especially the 20 books in one week.  :hahaha


Welcome aboard, Grady. Glad you found an new author you love.  :carrot
#14 - August 24, 2011, 03:40 PM
OPEN COURT, Knopf

Grady Hendrix

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Hey ya'll - that's super-nice of you to say something, and and I totally get it. When you find a board you love, it's really hard not to look askance when someone pops up out of nowhere and starts shooting their mouth off so as far as I'm concerned you've got nothing to apologize for. In fact, you're both being so nice that it makes me want to go back and apologize to some other people for things I've said to them on message boards in the past.

And I hear you about the 20 books in one week - it was actually about 10 days, so that's a bit of an exaggeration. I'm just coming off a period where I was waiting to get page proofs and notes back on a couple of projects and literally had a stretch where I had virtually nothing to do. I'd amassed a big stack of YA that folks had recommended to me and I just started plowing through it. Just for fun, here's what I was reading:

Be More Chill - Ned Vizzini
Martyn Pig - Brooks
Don’t Look Behind You - Lois Duncan
The Enemy - Charlie Higson
Feed - Mira Grant
Rumble Fish - SE Hinton
Spoiled - Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Bloodthirsty - Flynn Meaney
Ghost Girl - Torey Hayden
The Knife that Killed Me - Anthony McGowan
Burger Wuss - MT Anderson
Looking for JJ - Ann Cassidy
Bloodsong - Melvin Burgess
Rot and Ruin - Jonathan Maberry
The Tulip Touch - Anne Fine
iDrakula - Bekka Black
The White Mountains - John Christopher
City of Gold and Lead - John Christopher (okay, I admit, these two were re-reads)
Rotters - Daniel Kraus

Thanks for making me feel welcome here, seriously. I'd heard this was one of the nicest places on the internet to talk about YA and so far that's not wrong!

(And if anyone reads ROTTERS I apologize for possibly overpraising it and raising expectations waaay too high!)


#15 - August 25, 2011, 04:22 AM

Daniel Kraus is very professional, a member of ALA and Booklist reviewer. I seriously doubt he'd be creating sock puppets and posting reviews of his own books on the Internet. So I don't know Grady, but I'm very confident he just really liked the book.

And now I want to read it.

- Also Not Daniel Kraus
#16 - August 25, 2011, 07:27 AM

Grady--what did you think of The Knife That Killed Me?  I love the title and have given it to several patrons here at the library but haven't taken a peek inside the covers yet.
#17 - August 25, 2011, 07:42 AM
Youth Services librarian and YA writer. Wisconsin SW (Madison area) Rep.
@amandacoppedge on Twitter

Grady Hendrix

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KNIFE THAT KILLED me did a total 180 on me. I picked it up and it was slim (sometimes the mark, in my mind, of a "social issues" YA book), and then I started reading it and was all, "Oh noes, another book about gang violence. Bluh." But the writing is really good, and the POV is something that Chambers sticks to like Captain Ahab: it's just relentless and committed. Even when you know the narrator has it all wrong, Chambers gives you no room for ironic distance. The main bad guy is so different and seductive, and while the structuring device (it's narrated in flashback while the main character is watching a knife stab him - so chapters alternate between present tense stabby and flashback) can get a little too cute, by the end I was totally hooked.
#18 - August 25, 2011, 09:10 AM

Good to know it lives up to that title!  Thanks.
#19 - August 25, 2011, 09:17 AM
Youth Services librarian and YA writer. Wisconsin SW (Madison area) Rep.
@amandacoppedge on Twitter

I just finished Rotters and I totally agree with Grady's review on the beginning of this thread.

The book is amazing. Grave Robbers and the details are amazing! Although, I have to say I'm glad I wasn't eating anything while reading!

 I run a poetry workshop with teen boys in a juvenile detention center, and some of them are going to LOVE this one! (Some have low reading levels and won't be able to read this one).

#20 - September 05, 2011, 07:10 PM
Stained Glass Summer, Musa Publishing
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KenH

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Daniel Kraus is very professional, a member of ALA and Booklist reviewer. I seriously doubt he'd be creating sock puppets and posting reviews of his own books on the Internet. So I don't know Grady, but I'm very confident he just really liked the book.

And now I want to read it.

- Also Not Daniel Kraus

Kurtis, we know you're really DK.
#21 - September 05, 2011, 08:54 PM

Jonathan_Maberry

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I agree, ROTTERS is a terrific novel. 
#22 - September 08, 2011, 06:47 PM

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I don't necessarily like horror, or the level of gross Daniel Kraus achieves in ROTTERS. But his writing, his imagery, his character development, and its ups and downs? Nothing short of amazing.

Even if you avoid the genre, the first twenty-five pages of this book are worth your time.
#23 - October 23, 2011, 07:57 AM
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