I don’t remember how or why CROAK, Gina Damico’s debut novel, ended up on my bookshelf, but my best friend plucked it off and read it before I got the chance. She returned it and told me, “You HAVE to read this book immediately,” which I did, and I’ve been hooked on Damico’s books ever since. After the dark and hilarious CROAK trilogy, I was hell-bent (heh) on getting ahold of her new stand-alone novel.
Max is the kind of teenage boy who times his crossword puzzles and digs for dinosaur fossils in his spare time – a good kid who takes care of his sick mother instead of hanging out with friends (of which he has one or two). When he steals a cat bobblehead from work to make his mom smile, he never intends for this dishonest misdeed to unearth a devil.
Burg is a loud, no-pants-wearing, red-horn-having devil who needs a place of his own, pronto. He makes the deal that if Max finds him a house (with a hot tub!), he will heal Max’s mother’s heart condition. Unable to pass up the chance to save his mom, Max enlists the help of Lore, a former Goth girl who has dealt with her own demons, and who has a crowbar outfitted with googly eyes.
Complete with a giant fiberglass killer whale and Project Runway drinking game, this was a clever, unique story that’ll make you laugh out loud and punch you in the gut three pages later.
My biggest criticism is of the ending: the last fifty pages feel rushed, like Damico was trying to squeeze everything into a strict word count that was cut off too soon. It is a complete story, just not as fleshed-out as it should have been.
That said, if you’re a fan of Bryan Fuller shows like Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls, and Dead Like Me, then you’ll love Gina Damico. The snarky humor flows easily into the macabre, and you can always count on plot twists and inimitable characters in true Damico fashion. While HELLHOLE was not as strong as the CROAK trilogy, it’s still a solid read in its own right.
I recommend HELLHOLE for those over age 14 (due to cursing, death, and sex jokes) and for someone looking for a book that feels light at first with all the sarcasm and absurdity, but leaves readers with a more memorable experience in the end.
4 out of 5 stars
Amber Midgett is assistant manager at Main Point Books and a graduate student in Publishing at Rosemont College. She grew up in North Carolina, and her ultimate fandoms are Harry Potter and Doctor Who. She could recommend a book to probably anyone. Find her at Letters from a [Future] Editor and on Twitter at @ambermidgett.