Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Title: Croak
Author: Gina Damico
Genre: Young Adult Humor/Fantasy
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: March 20th, 2012

Once upon a time, during my first week of college, some guys came around my dorm and handed out little quarter-sheets of paper advertising auditions for a Murder Mystery Improv Comedy Group. I was intrigued. I'd been a total theatre junkie in high school, but had decided to steer clear of the theatre department at Boston College for reasons that I no longer remember. The thought of theatre-for-fun appealed to me. On the other hand, the thought of improv-for-fun sounded like an oxymoron. I'm not the improv type. I have enough trouble holding a conversation, much less holding a conversation that's supposed to be funny, in front of a group of legitimately funny people, with some girl who is pretending to be a fat man in a bikini. That's how I (still) picture improv in my head.

And yet I went, I auditioned, I was called back, and I was cast as Gretl (of Hansel and Gretel fame), the young, nerdy detective character in Once Upon a Time...to Kill.

To my relief, I discovered that there was actually a script. And I had plenty of actual lines to memorize. No improv required, except at rehearsals.

On the day we did the read-through of the student-written script, I realized how lucky I was to have found this group of people. The script was so funny that I spent most of the read-through with tears streaming down my face. By the end of that day I felt like part of the family. The script had done that. It had taken a group of weird, awkward people, some of whom knew each other, some of whom didn't, and made us a family. That was my first introduction to Gina Damico's writing.

Now I'm going to tell you about the book she wrote.

Here are some things I love:

-people with heterochromia (2 different-colored eyes)
-creative insults
-upstate New York (somewhat against my will)
-cool, badass uncles

CROAK has all of these things IN SPADES. It even has ramen, which, as a foodie, I probably shouldn't love but do.

The book begins with Lex Bartleby being almost-expelled, tied to a chair with jump ropes by her parents, and shipped off to rural upstate New York. Once there, her policy of Punch First, Fire Scathing Insult Later seems to fit in a little better than it did at home. Before she knows it, Lex is absorbed into the town of Croak, population 80. This is probably due to the fact that her uncle is Mort Bartleby, the mayor of Croak and a well-respected Grim Reaper.

It's not a relaxing summer vacation for Lex. She spends long days Killing people, and on top of that there are several unusual circumstances that she feels compelled to investigate with her partner, Driggs, a hot drummer with the aforementioned heterochromia.

The thing I love most about this book is the dialogue. Lex is a spitfire. She's a master insultmonger, and her repartee with Driggs is often hilarious. But the character I love most is Uncle Mort. I'm not sure if this was Gina Damico's intention, but I kind of have a crush on him. This is a relief. Sometimes I feel creepy swooning over the love interest in a YA novel. Gina has thoughtfully provided me with a more age-appropriate target for my readerly affections, which I appreciate.

I loved that college script of Once Upon a Time...to Kill, but Gina's writing has grown and matured since then. I can't wait to see what else she has in store for us.

EDIT: If you would like to read that original script, it can be found here. Gina played "BOO," the Wicked Witch of the West. Check out www.theccebc.com for more information about the group.

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