by Daniel Kraus
Recommended Ages: 14+
Until the summer before eleventh grade, Joey has lived in Chicago with his divorced mother. He knows nothing about his father, except that he is to blame for the disfigurement of his Mom's bad ear. Her partial deafness contributes tragically to her death under the wheels of a city bus, and before Joey has fully recovered from his grief, he finds himself uprooted from his Chicago life and transplanted to a small town in Iowa, where his deadbeat father is known as "the garbage man," even though no one has ever seen him collect garbage. Ken Harnett has no idea how to be a dad, as he immediately proves by leaving Joey alone to start his first week of school without any books, money, or food. Singled out for persecution by the school's top jock and a sadistic biology teacher, Joey finds out what it is like to be a walking target. Things get so bad that, when his father starts grooming him to carry on the family trade of robbing graves, Joey's outlook actually brightens.
But let there be no mistake: the diggers, also known as "resurrection men," are a doomed tribe. Each of them is only one mistake away from being lynched by an angry mob, or worse. And while most of the diggers stick to their own territories, and abide by the rules that protect them all, there is one whose growing madness threatens them all. Harnett warns Joey to beware of Antiochus "Baby" Boggs, and gives him lessons on how to survive being buried alive. These lessons come in helpful when Boggs lures Joey along on his journey of self-destruction, fueled by drugs and psychosis. At the very bottom of the pit of darkness into which Baby leads the boy is a climax of deadly struggle, evil, and danger.
Joey's adventures in the underworld of diggers makes this book both a thriller and an informative study of a strange and grim way of life. It opens a perversely interesting window on the science and culture of burial and decay. Meanwhile, his troubles at school explore the savagery that can lurk in the social structure of high schools, even in a small town. How Joey copes with this problem is ultimately both horrifying and satisfying. And what becomes of him and the other diggers is both touching and chilling.
An audio-book edition of this novel is available, performed by Kirby Heyborne—an actor best known for roles in the Mormon film industry, whose voice has an amazing ability to become completely different people. If your idea of a great voice actor is one who can create the illusion of being an entire cast of actors, you have to hear this guy. And this multiple-award-winning novel is a good place to start. Its author, meanwhile, is an independent filmmaker whose writing career specializes in young-adult novels that combine boys' coming-of-age stories with horror, mystery, and the macabre. His other two novels to-date are The Monster Variations and Scowler.