For anyone who found Hogwarts a little too cloying for the adult palette, the tiny town of Croak will be much more to your liking. Croak has no drinking age, a thriving cottage industry of cheating tourists, and the adults more likely to pick their nose and berate all teenagers than to provide wisdom or mentoring.
Despite the rough edges, this is the perfect place for our heroine. Though I'm usually not a fan of an angry protagonist, the sassy and funny Lexington Bartleby is filled to the brim with irrational anger. Billed in the description as a delinquent, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Lex's repuation is no joke. She opens the book punching, kicking, swearing, and sassing her way to the edge of her family's patience. And the solution is not navel gazing and ivy covered walls for Lex, she's shipped off north to work ten hour days. CROAK is a hysterical parody of YA boarding school genre, and though that could make the story predictable sometimes, the wit and characters never lost my interest. Uncle Mort is a sexy, genius of a Dumbledore who grifts tourists for Ramen money. Driggs is the teenage heartthrob, and his awkward, adolescent chemistry is just about the best I've ever read. Lex herself has a degree of "Boy-Who-Lived" fame, as the only recruit that comes from a loving, supportive family. Don't let these character sketches fool you, however. Damico does a great job of using gallows humor to turn a difficult subject into an entertaining romp, all without sacrificing the emotional punch that makes her characters to intriguing.
With it's portrayals of teenage drinking, heartbreaking references to abuse and murder, and the very real anger issues of the teenage workforce, CROAK still manages to maintain a light, tongue-in-cheek tone that I found winning. And just because the parody elements made some things predictable, Damico pulls no punches with her plot. The ending was a well executed surprise and I can't wait to see where book two takes us.
Full review to follow.
Sexual Content: Kissing.