I have to take a deep breath here because my enthusiasm for Rotters is such that my review might quickly decompose to incoherent gushing.
This is the highest praise I can give:
If two of my favorite books got together and made a child, Stiff by Mary Roach and The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey, Rotters would be that unholy Frankenstein child - a breathlessly macabre creation of horror and pathos.
Death is all over this book, fear of death, physical death, emotional death, death of hope. Joey has been sheltered all his 15 years by his beloved mother, but when she dies and he goes to live with a father he's never met - Joey is pitched into a bleak and ugly new existence - and that's BEFORE he meets his first corpse.
As the son of the creepy and stinky "Garbage Man" (as Joey's father is called by the townspeople) Joey quickly becomes his new school's pariah. He is beaten almost daily, terrorized by a sadistic teacher, and has no friends. High school is a horrifying place and his cold father and dreary home is no comfort.
With ordinary society so putrid in its treatment of Joey, is it any wonder then that he becomes drawn to the mysterious world of grave robbing - his father's secret occupation? Joey buries himself in learning all about the underground realm of grave thievery composed of strange, solitary men loosely held together by pacts and old-fashioned codes of honor. Here, grave robbing is a calling and an art, almost noble in its tradition going back to the Resurrectionists of the 18th Century. Almost noble, but not quite - for nightly, Joey descends the underworld of foul, rotting corpses, Rat Kings, maggots, severed limbs in pursuit of jewelry and precious mementos to pawn. In sharing his father's shameful secret, a rough and unusual father-son bond develops between the two and Joey becomes his willing apprentice.
Of course Joey pays for entry into this morbid world of the Diggers when he turns his back on the living, whom he calls the Rotters. He digs himself into a black abyss of pain so deep that I was genuinely uncertain if he would ever climb out of it.
Rotters must have flaws, but I cannot think of any. I've been yearning for a truly dark YA book and now I've found one who's got dark in spades and then some: the corpses, the father-son relationship, the fascinating history of grave-robbing, the characters, the brilliant but mad villain, and sharp writing.
Your nose will wrinkle in disgust, you will shudder, you will want to turn away, but you won't because as twisted as Rotters is, you will be too thrilled to stop turning the pages.