by Daniel Kraus


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Grave-robbing. What kind of monster would do such a thing? It's true that Leonardo da Vinci did it, Shakespeare wrote about it, and the resurrection men of nineteenth-century Scotland practically made it an art. But none of this matters to Joey Crouch, a sixteen-year-old straight-A student living in Chicago with his single mom. For the most part, Joey's life is about playing the trumpet and avoiding the daily humiliations of high school.
Everything changes when Joey's mother dies in a tragic accident and he is sent to rural Iowa to live with the father he has never known, a strange, solitary man with unimaginable secrets. At first, Joey's father wants nothing to do with him, but once father and son come to terms with each other, Joey's life takes a turn both macabre and exhilarating.
Daniel Kraus's masterful plotting and unforgettable characters make Rotters a moving, terrifying, and unconventional epic about fathers and sons, complex family ties, taboos, and the ever-present specter of mortality.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385738583
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 04/10/2012
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 385,175
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

DANIEL KRAUS is a writer, an editor, and a filmmaker. He lives with his wife in Chicago.

Read an Excerpt


My father's name was Ken Harnett. I was told by my caseworker from the Department of Children and Family Services that she had tracked him down in a small town in Iowa not far from the Mississippi River, not even five hours away from Chicago. My caseworker, a young woman named Claire, was proud of the discovery. When she had told me after my mother's funeral that she was giving top priority to the search, it had sounded like one of those things she was required to say. I think I nodded and maybe even smiled. It never occurred to me that Claire would succeed. I don't think it occurred to her, either.

I tried to imagine what he looked like; I subtracted my mother's features from my own. The exercise was not only futile, it was boring. I didn't care. He was not real, at least not to me. Even the name felt fabricated. My last name was Crouch. I knew no Harnetts and had never met anyone named Ken. Such thoughts compelled me to fish out my passport and consider the moronic face staring back at me. I'd had the passport all my life, a childhood gift that made little sense; perhaps there had been a time when my mother had fantasized that we might leave the confines not only of the city but of the country as well. Over the years, I had taken it upon myself to renew the passport as a personal promise that I would not turn out like her, that one day I would see the world, any world. If I used it now, right now, maybe I could escape this faceless father.

Claire was assigned to my case the same day that my mother went under all eight wheels of the bus. Death was instantaneous, though the paperwork wasn't signed until about noon. Around dinnertime, the intercom buzzed and I asked who was there and it was a woman's voice that was not my mother's. Our speaker was crap, so I went downstairs to see who it was and it was a pretty Asian girl with a pixie cut and purple fingernails, possibly still in her twenties, and suddenly it didn't matter if she was homeless or a Jehovah's Witness or planned on pressing a knife to my throat. All I could think of was how stupid I looked with my Kool-Aid-stained tee and pleated shorts. Not that my attire mattered much: I was short and scrawny and not anyone people spent time looking at, and I knew I was kidding myself that this female, any female, saw me as anything but a blur of pimpled flesh and uncooperative brown hair. "Your mother has died," she said. She said it before introducing herself, and I couldn't help considering my reaction almost abstractly. There was an attractive young woman at my door; masculine protocol required that I not cry. It was tough, and got tougher as the night progressed, and I found myself wishing that Claire were less cute, much older, and had, for instance, a mustache.

Claire attended the wake and the funeral. I guess it was part of her job. My best friend, Boris Watson, met her for the first time there, and was as disheartened as I by her inappropriate good looks. The two of them shook hands, her grip businesslike and warm, his limp and humiliated, and I realized that, with my mother gone, this mismatched pair was all I had left. It did not bode well that their handshake was short, their conversation strained and doomed.

The service took place at our usual church with our usual pastor—my mother had taken me there almost every Sunday of my life. I don't know who arranged the funeral details and chose the casket or where exactly the money came from to pay for the service and flowers. Claire surely knew; maybe Boris knew, too. I was steered around, sometimes literally by the shoulders, from a hospital morgue to Boris's living room to a dreary Italian restaurant and back to Boris's, and on and on until it was two days later and there was my mother in her casket. I first caught sight of her face from the corner of my eye and it was like noticing someone you didn't expect to see. Behind me, Boris and the rest of the Watsons kept their distance. The funeral home doors would remain closed for another twenty minutes; this time belonged solely to the family, and that meant me. Red carpet led me to her. She was fantastically still and her cheeks lay unnaturally flat. On those cheeks was far too much makeup—the only freckles I could see were in a patch below her throat.

A few seconds of this was enough. I craned my neck. That spider bobbing in that ceiling cobweb—there was more life there than in this expensive silver box, and I devoured its every detail, the delicate probe of the spider's leg, the responding sink and shine of its net. It was a talent of mine, or a problem, depending on whom you asked, to obsess about trivial details during stressful situations. In fourth grade a school therapist called it an avoidance technique. My mom, who didn't mind it so much, had dubbed it "specifying." Once, in a doctor's office, as the old man ran through the grim details of my impending tonsillectomy, my mom caught me specifying toward the floor. As we left, she didn't ask me about the procedure. Instead she asked me about the doctor's shoes, their color, the number of lace holes, and their general condition. I could not help smiling and responding—

—greenish black—


—ratty as hell—

The skill hadn't come from nowhere. My friendship with Boris aside, my mother and I had lived in solitude as hermetic as it was mysterious. Fiercely dependent upon her from an early age, I was seized by anxiety when she was even a few minutes late coming home from work. To distract myself I would concentrate—on the insectile innards of lightbulbs, the landscapes of dust on the blinds, the caricatures hiding within the ceiling spackle—and when she arrived, I could recite to her every last detail. She applauded and encouraged this practice, but for me it came far too easily. There were plenty of things in life I wanted to forget. By the time I was nine or ten, I considered specifying a curse.

At the request of the Watsons, and with Claire's recommendation to her department, I was placed with Boris's family until other arrangements could be made. Boris stood beside me during the endless handshaking of the wake and sat next to me at the funeral. When the graveside service was over and people were filing away, Boris was the one who told me that I needed to touch the casket. "Just put your hand on it," he said. I didn't see why it was important. "Now, dumbass," he hissed. "I did it when my grandma died. Trust me." People were squeezing past us; it was my only chance. I leaned over and touched the casket with two fingers. The solidity of the hard surface was unexpectedly reassuring, and I pressed my entire palm flat against the beveled corner. I could feel through my hand the thunder of the exiting crowd. These vibrations were life, and for a moment my mother was part of it. I let it last for several seconds. It was the first time I had touched a casket and I presumed it would be the last. I was wrong, of course—I would touch hundreds, and soon.

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Rotters 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Angeline_Walsh More than 1 year ago
This book was gruesome, gritty, and definitely not pretty. It was a bit disturbing at some parts. Recommended for anyone who doesn't mind detailed descriptions about death and decomposition. Honestly.
Ellen_Norton on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Joey Crouch is a straight A 16 year old living in Chicago with his single mom when she is unexpectedly hit by a bus and killed. This begins Joey's journey to rural Iowa where he is sent to live with the father he has never met. When he arrives, his recluse of a father with a questionable background at best is nothing like Joey expected. To make matters worse, he is immediately labeled as an outcast at school and his best friend from Chicago seems to be no help. One night, Joey decides to follow his father to see what he actually does, and he discovers that he is a grave robber. While this is initially disgusting to Joey, he soon is drawn into the mysterious life and becomes a digger himself. This amazingly written tale is filled with disgusting gore that makes the reader wonder if Daniel Kraus has been around this type of lifestyle. Definitely for the older YA set, and suitable for adults.
slatta on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Let me make one thing perfectly clear: "Rotters," by Daniel Kraus (Delacorte Press, 2011) is not for every YA reader. Well, what book is? But this novel is filled with enough bloated corpses, squirming maggots, predatory rats, severed appendages, and noxious odors to choke even the most jaded fan of the horror genre. You get my drift. Okay, are you still with me? Good, because you're in for quite a ride. Sixteen year-old Joey Crouch is a straight-A student living with his single mother in Chicago. He plays the trumpet, has one good friend, and pretty well succeeds at staying under the radar of high school bullies looking for a soft target. That all changes when his mother dies in a tragic accident--a death chillingly foretold in the book's prologue. He is sent to a small town in Iowa to live with Ken Harnett, the father he never met. Harnett is a surly brute of a man with a rancid stench so bad that the locals have dubbed him The Garbage Man. He is also rumored to be a thief. The new kid at school soon finds himself burdened not only with his father's noxious odor but his reputation as well. Mercilessly bullied by students and one sadistic teacher in particular, Joey has no choice but to embrace his father--and his father's grisly trade. Harnett is no garbage man, but he is a thief. A grave robber, to be exact. With that, Joey enters a brotherhood of loosely organized, solitary men who view their calling as noble, in the tradition of the resurrection men--19th century grave robbers hired to steal bodies for use in medical school dissections. It's a shocking premise, but in its heart this book is about the bond between a father and his son, taboos, and most of all, mortality. Perhaps no one but Kraus could bring such lyrical beauty to descriptions of death and decay. I'd been wanting to read and review this book for a while; I've long been a fan of the macabre, from Edgar Allen Poe to Stephen King. Kraus is a Chicago author, and "Rotters" had generated a good amount of buzz. When I read that the Audio Publishing Association had awarded "Rotters" (Listening Library and Random House Audio) the 2012 Odyssey Award for the producer of the best audiobook for children and YA, I knew I had to give it a listen. I listen to a lot of audio books, and in my experience the reader can make or break a book. This book's reader, Kirby Heyborne, really delivers, giving each character an individual voice and real emotional depth. If you have a strong stomach and have a taste for books that are dark, creepy, and shocking, you should give a "Rotters" a read--or a listen. This review was originally published in the April 15, 2012 edition of The News-Gazette.
ewyatt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Joey Crouch is tortured at school by bullies after moving to live with the father he'd never met. The shack that his dad lives in smells horrible. Joey discovers his dad's job as a grave digger, and he is soon following his dad's footsteps. With this entrée into a world largely hidden from view of mainstream life, the book spirals deeper and deeper into darkness and despair. With his deadening sense of connection to humanity growing, a number of diverse characters and situations pull Joey closer to the brink of self-destruction. Twists and turns abound. This is an ambitious and far reaching text touching on topics including bullying, identity, family, death, and redemption.
lilibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After Joey's mom is killed in an accident, social services decides he should leave Chicago and go live with his dad whom he has never met. Upon arrival, he discovers that his father is the town outcast, known as the Garbageman, and lives in a tiny trailer with no room for Joey. Miserble at home and bullied at school for his lack of clothing, and the odd smell that follows him, he discovers what his dad's profession actually is, becomes his apprentice, and finds himself part of a shady underworld of secretive men.
lauriebrown54 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a coming-of-age book that is light years away from other novels of that genre. This is the darkest story I¿ve read in a long time, and I read a lot of dark stuff. Joey Crouch is 16 and a straight A student being raised by a single mother. He and his best friend, Boris, play jazz trumpet. It¿s a comfortable life. His biggest worries are about not wanting to get up in the morning and being pushed to practice his music. Then his mother dies suddenly. His mother¿s will states that Joey is to be placed with his father. The father he knows nothing about, the father who has had no contact with them, the father he had assumed was unfindable. But the father is found in a small town in Iowa. Joey is pre-enrolled in a new high school, told that the town would be idyllic, assured that he¿d adjust just fine and that everything was taken care of nice and tidy and he¿s put on a bus to Bloughton. Of course it¿s far from idyllic. His father doesn¿t meet the bus and Joey has to walk miles to a shack out in the country. His father isn¿t home; when he does show up days later, it¿s clear he doesn¿t want Joey there. There is no food, no way to wash clothes, no telephone. The shack stinks. At school, both the students- especially the king of the jocks- and some of the staff decide instantly they don¿t like Joey; he¿s new, and he¿s the son of a man that the entire town loathes and despises. And when he manages to scrape enough change together to call Boris from a pay phone, Boris is distant, belittles what Joey is going through and finally tells him not to call again. Life has gone from pretty darn good to pure hell for Joey. And it just keeps getting worse. His father is a grave robber. The all pervasive stink is from handling putrescent bodies. This is Joey¿s new life. You think all this is bad? Wait. It gets worse. How Joey adapts to this new life is surprising. His new life takes many turns, none good, but it¿s what he feels he must do to survive, to have someone, anyone, approve of him in this loveless landscape. The things he learns to do, the things that make up his new `normal¿, are things that would make most people run screaming into the night. Decay, madmen, physical mutilation, starvation, poverty. His old self peels away, leaving just the core of Joey. This is not a book for the faint of heart. People who are bothered by vivid descriptions of death and decay should avoid it. There are problems- sometimes the book moves much to slowly. I can¿t understand why Boris acted as he did and the author never goes back to that. But this is an oddly compelling book. I had to know what would happen next, for good or bad. The grave digging and the rotting corpses are minutely, almost lovingly, described. The author makes it clear through all this that when your world changes dramatically and you¿re left without a support system, you¿ll come to accept anything as normal, and that¿s a scary thing to learn.
pacey1927 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am amazed by this book. I am also grossed out, absorbed, heartbroken, intrigued, sorrowful, uplifted, horrified and above all completely and totally entertained. I guess I didn't read the blurb for this one before I picked it out because for some reason I thought erroneously that this book was about zombies. I couldn't have been more wrong but I am glad I misunderstood because I am not sure I would have chosen to read this book about grave robbers. Yet "Rotters" is a book that will not leave me for a long time. Perhaps many years from now I will be contemplating my own demise and remember this book. Because this book was so dark and so different from the other books I've read, I think it will be remembered. On the surface "Rotters" appears to be a disgusting story of people who dig up graves in the night and rob the bodies of jewelry and antiques to be sold on the black market. The stench of decaying corpses cling to these people and showers can't even remove the scent. There should be nothing redeemable about these vile people. Right? Maybe. Maybe not. Daniel Kraus makes human these Diggers. As with most any human, there is both good and bad in them. At the forefront of this story is a boy named Joey who was raised by his mother and never knew his father. After her untimely death, Joey learns of his father and is sent to live with him. The house is a shack and disgusting to boot. The man how lives there, the man who is Joey's father, Harnett is even more so. This is the point where the story sucked me in and made me really feel for Joey. He has just lost him mother who meant the world to him. His father is gruff and dirty. He has no bed to call his own and sleeps on the kitchen floor of the filthy home. He smells, everything smells. Because he is scrawny, pimply face, and smells, he is immediately the main target for bullying at school. He has no friends. His old best friend won't take his calls. He hasn't a dime to his name. Holy crud, I felt sorry for this boy. I wanted to grab him right out of the pages and mother him. Then he and his father start to communicate. He finds out that his dad may not really be a garbage man at all. And I can't tell you a single other thing about the plot of this book because you really need to experience it all for yourself. I will say it is icky and gross. I know more than I ever needed to know about human decomposition. Yet every page is riveting. The relationships are believably and truly do make the book as wonderful as it is. I find it hard to believe that this book is marketing to the YA genre. It read as adult in so many ways. There is vulger language on ocassion but no sex...but graphic things are done with the deceased. Other things are tiptoed around, hinted at, shocking. On the other hand, "Rotters" is a coming of age story, not unlike "The Outsiders" in some ways, although this one is graphic and macabre. Teens will relate to the bullying and the desire for revenge. The language is easy to understand and probably for the YA reading level. Its also a beautiful and descriptive language. Its that wonderful writing ability that makes the grapic scenes so grapahic. You can see in your mind exactly what the characters are seeing, and that is often quite unpleasant. Athough high school classes would probably never touch a finger on this one, what discussion it would bring about in a classroom setting. I would love to be involved in one and hear what others think...what they take away from this book. Why not five stars? There is a turning point in the book which almost lost me. Things at school reach a climax and Harnett and Joey go away on a 'job' where many other diggers are. While important to the story, I felt a little bit of disconnect and lost a little interest. The story does come back up and the ending moves along rapidly and is very exciting and the resolution is fit for the book. Then there is almost a long epilouge and at that point I wanted to know more....Joey supposedly res
titania86 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Joey Crouch has a pretty normal life. He lives with his mom and plays trumpet in the band at school. His whole world is turned upside down when she dies in a tragic accident and he is forced to lived with his estranged father, Ken Harnett, in a rural town. Life in this new town couldn't be more different. Teasing and bullying are common occurrences and he finds himself at the bottom of the pecking order, mostly because he lives in squalor with his father who is commonly known as the trash man. Their relationship is shaky to say the least and they don't communicate well. After a while, it becomes clear that Harnett makes his money stealing things from graves. After the initial shock, Joey wants to learn about this new trade that opens the door to a new world full of strange, grotesque characters, horrific sights, family secrets, and himself.I had never heard of this before getting an advance copy and still have not seen this book in a store. It's surprising because this is a great read that can easily appeal to both adult and older teen readers. Rotters is a unique and very dark coming of age story that centers around the distasteful profession of robbing graves. I've never read a book on this subject, but I figured it would be pretty disgusting and intense. It delivered that in a big way. Decaying corpses, rats, foul odors, and maggots are described in the most loving and beautiful detail. The grave odor that permeates Joey's life is so well described that I feel that I can practically smell it as I read. Daniel Kraus' masterful writing almost leaps off the page.The other amazing thing about this book is the characters. Each one is richly imagined and after reading the novel, these characters still stayed with me. Joey in particular is a wonderful character that changes drastically throughout the course of the book. At first, he's consumed with grief over his mother's death and strives to get straight A's in school. Then he moves to Bloughton and is constantly bullied because of his father and the stench that follows him. I really felt for him because of both the bullying at school (by teachers and students) and the horrible treatment from his father. He reacted weakly to the abuse and seemed to accept his lot in life. During the second school year, his demeanor changes. His confidence grows and he lashes out in an incredibly satisfying way. He leaves to learn from another digger, but this one is an enemy of his fathers. After the exciting finale, Joey is just himself. He comes into his own with some scars and aches, but with his own sense of self instead of what others try to push onto him. Even though it was encased in gruesome detail and grave robbing, Joey still experienced what most of us experience in our transition from child to adult. Rotters is an exceptional young adult book that isn't afraid to delve into dark, gruesome territory. I would only recommend this to people that are fans of horror and those that aren't squeamish. I will definitely read whatever Daniel Kraus writes next.
joyleppin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is unlike any other that I have read. I thought about grave robbers as a long ago event, certainly not a current topic. But this book is so much more than the fetid story of grave robbers. It is a highly intriguing tale about Joey Crouch and the unbelievably horrible life he lives. He endures taunting and brutality and somehow retains an interest in subjects to please his deceased mother. Joey's taunters are basically one dimensional, but the other characters are intricate and well developed. Joey is an amazing adolescent who thrives despite the chaos he endures.The story is full of conflict: man vs. man; man vs. self and man vs. nature. This book was hard to put down because the story was such a roller-coaster. It was a great read and I look forward to other novels by Daniel Kraus.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've had this book in my possession for a while now and only just picked it up yesterday. It was so good that I read it all day until I fell asleep with my nook still in my hands, and continued to read when I awoke this morning. Its the raw, unapologetic relationship between the characters that makes this book so special. I tried but couldn't identify with it as a horror. Its hard to describe the feeling it left me with. Its one very complete package. Usually endings leave me yearning for more, but not this one. It wraps up perfectly. The reviews I have read don't do this book ANY justice. You have to read it to understand how great it really is.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book was fantastic all throughout
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FeatheredQuillBookReviews More than 1 year ago
Joey Crouch is an 'odd' teenager. When our book begins, he's sitting in his own home with a.feeling. Something inside of him tells him that this is the day his mother is going to die. Joey follows her around the house waiting to see if a grease fire will take her out - or, perhaps, she'll fall in the bathroom and that will be 'all she rote.' But, unfortunately, Mom goes grocery shopping and, while jaywalking, is hit by a bus. And that's only the beginning of Joey's problems. Placed into the home of his best friend Boris for a couple of weeks, Joey tries desperately to find a way to stay in the only home he's ever known. He has no desire to be shipped to his father - a man he's never even met. All he knows about his father is the presence of a scar on his mother's neck, which she never talked about. Joey and his mother have always been a team but, now, Joey's life is going to be so disrupted he'll never know what hit him. Soon Child Services has tracked down good, old Dad, and Joey is put on a train. During his journey he goes from the amazingly comforting vibe of big city Chicago, through suburbs, to a place where the only sign of life are the tractors rusting in barren, broken-down yards. This is it. This is home. This is Bloughton, Iowa, population 4,000. Joey is already sickened by the fact that there is only one High School, and when he meets his father (who doesn't come to pick him up at the train), and sees the horrifically dirty, disgusting house he has to live in, Joey is crushed. Not only that, but when he begins school and gets on the wrong side of the 'school jock,' not to mention falls for the beautiful girl with Egyptian eyes that happens to date said jock, Joey's life absolutely crumbles. His father is known around town as the 'Garbageman,' so Joey is automatically on the bottom of the food chain when it comes to school. No one wants to help him, be near him, or even smell him.and Joey wants desperately to return to Chicago to his best friend's house. As the story moves along, Joey loses his best friend, and ends up forming an odd relationship with the man he's supposed to call Dad. Not only is Dad not a garbage man, per se, he's part of a group called the Diggers, and what they dig up is beyond disgusting. In the footsteps of R.L. Stine, who writes horror novels that have set the YA world on fire, this author also covers the extremely macabre. This story is not only a creepy father-son relationship, it is also set in a dark, mysterious, frightening world that readers will definitely have to own the courage to visit. Quill Says: The writing is masterful but, to be honest, you really need the heart and soul of a true 'horror-fan' to embark on this deathly, uncompromising journey into Joey Crouch's world.