(Original review posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/32115.html)Why I Read It:
I actually had no intention of reading this. It was a book my brother bought a few months ago after I got him on a reading kick (he was a MAJOR reluctant reader until I suggested he read Big Brother by Cory Doctorow about a year ago). He brought this book with him when we vacationed with our family to the Dominican Republic. When my Kobo died, I went to him frantic that I had nothing to read, and since he was still working on another book he brought with him, he let me borrow it.
So as you can probably assume, I had no expectations when jumping into this book. I just knew it was about grave-robbing and that's really about it. I'm glad to report that I was pleasantly surprised while reading this, even if I had some problems with the book.
The beginning of the novel is probably its strongest part. Reading about Joey's loss was heart-wrenching. He was obviously really close to his mother, because of her fear of the outside (which at first appears to just be agoraphobia, but is later revealed to be because of something else entirely), so when he's describing her funeral, the fall-out of her death, I felt so bad for him. Then to read about him ending up with his absent father was even worse -- the state of his father's home, how he's never around so that Joey can do simple things like EAT and do laundry.. Then he's treatment at school; this was probably the worst part for me. Like most kids, I was picked on at school (mostly in grades 7 and 8 though -- high-school was merciful), and THAT was hard. I can't even imagine how Joey felt being a social outcast at his new school, being a big red target for bullying. Essentially, the beginning of the novel was incredibly depressing, and while it made me slightly uncomfortable in just HOW depressing it was, it felt like the most well-written part of the novel.
The first part of the novel also chronicles Joey's discovery of his father's "real" job, which is of course the grave robbing. Kraus does a good job of making Joey feel so completely ostracized that he would run to his father, even if he is a horrible parental figure, but I was still skeptical about Joey's reaction when he founds out about his father's job. He is so oddly okay with it... and I get that he was looking for acceptance, looking for it wherever he possible could, but I still find it hard to believe that someone would swallow it and handle it as well as Joey did. It just didn't really compute for me.
Speaking of the grave-robbing, I have to applaud Kraus for knowing how to write gruesome stuff. His description of the corpses Joey and his father dug up was FREAKIN' GROSS, but really, that's the point. It's also obvious that Kraus did his research when it comes to burial practices, as well as body decomposition and grave robbing itself. As for the overall writing of the novel, it was actually really good. Joey's a smart kid, so his precocious style of narrating (the story is told in the first person) fit him well, and it allowed for some "poetic" writing that didn't feel out of place. It also really amped the atmosphere.
One of my biggest complaints with this novel is the pacing. At almost 450 pages, this book is fairly long. While the beginning was really gripping in its depressing-ness, the second half of the novel started to lose steam. It was still good, but it was losing momentum. By the end of the book though, I was really anxious for it to be done -- it just felt too long and dragged out.
There was also something else missing from the novel. I think Thea from the Book Smugglers had it right when she said that the novel lacked depth in some regards. Kraus could have really explored the moral implications of grave robbing, or of what Joey did at the end of the second part of the novel to get revenge upon the people at his school who made his life hell. But he never really, never at any depth anyway, which is too bad.Final Judgment:
This novel actually took me by surprise. I had no intention of reading it, but in a moment of desperateness I picked it up. The beginning of the novel had me a little chocked up at just how SAD it was, which was followed by the gruesomeness of being a grave-robber. These were some of the best written parts of the novel, and while it doesn't exactly give me the warm and fuzzies, it was gripping. The pacing of the novel after that first part though felt like it lagged quite a bit, which did not work in the book's favour at all. Still though, the writing was really solid, the main character was easy to sympathize with. I just wish that Kraus had explored some of the controversial topics in this book with a little more depth. I would recommend this with reservations -- it's got a slow pace and if you're easily grossed out this may not be your cup of tea.