The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 24, 2013

Cari Rerat: 'Scowler' more intense than promised

By Cari Rerat
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — When he was 10 years old, Ry Burke survived a brutal beating and a harrowing, near death experience fleeing from his father through a dense forest. Ry's head trauma and terror caused him to believe that three toys, Mr. Furrington, Jesus Christ and Scowler, were alive and talking to him.

Mr. Furrington, a small teddy bear, is a playful and affectionate friend; Jesus Christ, a gumby-esque plastic figure, is a wise and kind advisor; Scowler, a "doll" hand made with a metal skeleton, cornmeal stuffing and sea shell teeth, is an aggressive and blood-thirsty fighter. It is their advice that ultimately helps Ry survive the forest.

In "Scowler," by Daniel Kraus, now that Ry is 19 and his father is in jail, he's still on the family's farm helping his mother where he can. It's a miserable, boring life for Ry, but he doesn't know how to change it. Little does Ry know, a meteor is on a collision course with his farm and it brings all the nightmares Ry thought he outgrew.

After reading/listening to "Rotters" by Daniel Kraus, I started "Scowler" expecting an intense book. I was not disappointed. In fact, there were several times I had to talk myself down from the "this is too intense for me right now, I should stop reading" ledge.  

I am not going to say I enjoyed "Scowler," because I don't think it's one of those books that you really enjoy. Instead, I think it's more accurate to say that I experienced "Scowler."

Kraus has a way of slowing down a scene so that you see it in every single horrifying detail. You know where the scene is going when it starts, but you're compelled to keep reading the minutia as Kraus lays them before you because you simply are not able to do anything else.

Kraus's characters are incredibly flawed -- with the possible exception of Ry's younger sister Sarah--and Heyborne's narration so completely captures the flaws and the perfections of these characters that they become tangible.

Like "Rotters," I both read and listened to "Scowler." The narrator, Kirby Heyborne, does everything right, which makes the book even more intense.

I started the process of giving up caffeine while reading "Scowler" because I felt jittery and anxious much of the day. Now that I finished "Scowler" and have had a moment to take a full breath, maybe I don't need to give caffeine up after all.  


Critiquing conspiracies

"How to Fake a Moon Landing," by Darryl Cunningham, looks at the controversies surrounding things like climate change, evolution, fracking, alternative medicines and the moon landing and applies cold, hard logic and scientific evidence to these controversies.

Cunningham takes time to explain each subject, detailing the history behind the subject, the controversy itself and why there shouldn't really be a controversy. He's very thorough and makes some really good points.

I found the chapter on homeopathy quite interesting. I had no idea what homeopathy was before reading "How to Fake a Moon Landing," so I was fascinated by how it "works" and the pseudo-science behind it. I think it's especially helpful that Cunningham explains how even though homeopathy's remedies are ultimately harmless, the denial of science-based medicine in preference of homeopathy is harmful.

All in all, "How to Fake a Moon Landing" is a great book for anyone interested in the full stories behind the controversies -- which include pictures of the subjects discussed -- as well as for readers who just want to know what all the hubbub is about.

Cunningham's use of comics and pictures is an inspired choice. This format makes the subjects approachable and the information easier to digest.


Cari Rerat is Teen Librarian for the Joplin Public Library.