On the Head of a Pin

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Overview

Josh makes a vow after his sister Angela’s near-drowning: if God will keep her alive, he will become a priest. But Josh’s promise is shattered the moment his friend Andy picks up a rifle at the end of a drinking party. The gun goes off, killing a classmate who lingered too long. Andy refuses to confess to the accident; instead, he forces Josh to help him hide the body. Then Andy swears Josh to secrecy by threatening to kill him—or worse, Angela. How can Josh protect her when he is racked with guilt? This view ...
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Overview

Josh makes a vow after his sister Angela’s near-drowning: if God will keep her alive, he will become a priest. But Josh’s promise is shattered the moment his friend Andy picks up a rifle at the end of a drinking party. The gun goes off, killing a classmate who lingered too long. Andy refuses to confess to the accident; instead, he forces Josh to help him hide the body. Then Andy swears Josh to secrecy by threatening to kill him—or worse, Angela. How can Josh protect her when he is racked with guilt? This view into a faithful boy’s private hell is eye-opening and stomach-twisting.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The subject of Miller's (Aimee) riveting novel could come right out of newspaper headlines: A gun accidentally goes off and leaves homecoming queen Helen Mitchell dead. Here, the author explores the impact of the trauma on two young men peripherally involved in the incident. Josh, a devout Catholic who witnesses the shooting, is pressured by his friends to cover up traces of their involvement. Already wracked with guilt over another accident that left his sister in a coma, Josh searches for redemption. Meanwhile, Michael, the victim's boyfriend, who literally slept through the shooting, has fled from an abusive home and resettled in another city. He doesn't find out that Helen is dead until two weeks later when her body is discovered in a shallow grave. With the help of two supportive adults, Michael avoids becoming a murder suspect and works to uncover the truth about what happened the night Helen was killed. Alternating between Josh's and Michael's perspectives, the author delves deep into the psyches of these two sensitive and vulnerable boys, tracing different stages of their emotional pain and how they come to terms with the tragedy. The novel's denouement may drag on a bit, but some readers will welcome the slowed pace of the conclusion to fully absorb the series of shocking events, and the way they have changed these boys forever. Ages 14-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Remorse pounds Joshua Stedman's conscience as he wrestles with the dilemma of whether to confess his role in homecoming queen Helen Mitchell's disappearance or to remain silent. After seeing his best friend, Andy Grabbit, accidentally shoot Helen at a party and being bullied by Andy and explosive classmate Victor Munger to help bury her, Josh questions his worthiness to become a priest, a pledge he made to God after his sister Angela survived almost drowning in his family's pond. Roman Catholic prayers and Taoist verses introduce first-person sections featuring Josh and Michael Knight, Helen's boyfriend who becomes confused after Munger drugs his drink and lies that Helen left the party with another boy. Raised by an abusive father, insecure Michael is scared Helen no longer loves him. Unable to find her, a dispirited Michael leaves town, meeting altruistic storeowner Mr. Lockwood, who secures a lawyer for Michael after Helen's body is found and people suspect he killed her. Josh's guilt is further tormented by his sometimes negative reactions to how brain-damaged Angela's healthcare needs impact his family's lifestyle. He retreats to a shrine he builds in the woods. Josh becomes enraged when Munger destroys that sanctuary and threatens to kill Angela if Josh tells the truth. Pair with Jay Bennett's Coverup (1991) or Paul Fleischman's Whirligig (1998) to discuss moral issues concerning teenagers and accidental murder. 2006, Dutton/Penguin, Ages 12 up.
—Elizabeth D. Schafer
VOYA
Miller effectively creates characters who seem real because of their shortcomings; they are not just perfect people who always do the right thing. Although the ending is rather hopeful, the beginning and middle of this book are pretty heavy emotionally, and many teens will either not relate or be overwhelmed. Switching between the perspectives of Michael and Josh adds more depth to the plot and shows just how easily misconceptions and rumors can arise. Despite a solid plot, the pace of this book is somewhat uneven and is bogged down by repetition of ideas. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P J S (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2006, Dutton, 288p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Kristen Moreland, Teen Reviewer
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-Seventeen-year-old Andy accidentally kills Helen while taunting Josh and Victor with a hunting rifle at a late-night party. Devout Josh is desperate to call 911 but Andy and Victor threaten to kill him and his family if he tells. The three boys bury Helen's body in the woods. Josh is devoured by guilt, fear, and shame; can't eat or sleep; and begins to hear voices. The chapters alternate between Helen's boyfriend, Michael, who had passed out and missed the shooting, and Josh, as Michael struggles with stupefying grief and Josh tries to stay alive and sane. Miller portrays both young men with empathy and love, and their deeply honest voices maintain the narrative. The first and last chapters are Helen's, and her voice, and Michael's memories of her, are equally natural and sympathetic. Taoist proverbs start Michael's chapters and lines of a psalm start Josh's to set the mood, but are confusing and precious as they seem barely connected to characters and events. The novel's numerous side plots and characters-Josh may have caused his sister's crippling accident, Michael must save his younger brother from their father, an old hippie is the only worthy adult in town-are distractions from an otherwise gripping and suspenseful story. Faith, guilt, depression, child abuse, gun control, and life after death are just too many themes for one novel, and the result is sometimes muddled and discomfiting. Though Miller tries to do too much, her beautifully rendered narrators manage to compel readers on to the last page.-Johanna Lewis, New York Public Library Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Headstrong hooligan Andy quaffs way too many beers at a party in his dad's cabin, and at the party's end, he drunkenly and stupidly brings out his dad's rifle. The gun goes off, instantly killing Helen, the wealthy blonde prom queen who's practically affianced to impoverished, artistic Michael. To keep from getting caught, Andy coerces his hyper-religious best friend, Josh, and crazed, knife-toting burnout, Victor, to help him dispose of her body and plant the murder on Michael. Not only does this trio of bipolar-personality stereotypes' coming together seem completely unlikely, but also their personalities are so extreme that little room is left for true relationship building. As a result, no true connection occurs between the boys, and Andy and Victor's idle threats soon become tedious. The story itself, which unfolds through the alternating thoughts of Josh and Michael, becomes lost in a jumble of overblown emotional outbursts mixed with a handful of overpowering subplots. Strangely enough, the only fully fleshed character in the novel is Helen, whose angelically self-aware musings bookend this long-winded melodrama infused with way too much Catholic guilt. (Fiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780525477365
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/2/2006
  • Pages: 256
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: 860L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.72 (w) x 8.54 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 19, 2009

    Amazing Book!

    The story, On the Head of a Pin, by Mary Beth Miller, is one of the best Murder/Realistic Fiction books I have ever read! This book has spiritual references that can relate to almost everyone in the world today. With a lot of the younger youth today there have been some things going on that shouldn't be, and this book shows how one kid (Josh) finds his way with Him and looks for comfort. The murder in this book is something that could actually happen. After Andy's drinking party, some "late-night lovers" are still at the house. Andy is just messing around with his dad's hunting rifle when it suddenly goes off. The result is one that changed Josh, Andy and Victor's lives forever. This book kept me on the edge of my seat, and I thought it was very well written. I also liked the story line of how a modern day teenager finds God, and manages to find comfort. This story is one that shows the real values of friendship.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 12, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Jennifer Wardrip, aka "The Genius" for TeensReadToo.com

    When you open ON THE HEAD OF A PIN to read what the book is about, the first line that jumps out at you is "one thoughtless act can impact many lives." This is the basis for Mary Beth Miller's latest release, and it definitely holds true for the characters of ON THE HEAD OF A PIN. <BR/><BR/>Five teenagers, all as different as can be. There's Helen, the beautiful Homecoming Queen who didn't ask for her title. She wants nothing more than to finish high school and go away to college, so that she can finally bring her relationship with her boyfriend, Michael, out into the open. Her parents don't understand what she could possibly see in him, a boy already graduated from high school who spends his free time painting pictures. He's not the type of boy her parents want to see their daughter with, even if she does claim to love him. He comes from a questionable family, and he's definitely not the upstanding guy Helen should be dating. <BR/><BR/>Then there's Michael himself, a young man who spends all of his time either avoiding his father, taking care of his younger brother, Richie, working at a garage fixing cars, or taking his canvases into the woods to paint. Although he loves Helen and wants to be with her, he understands why her parents are hesitant about their relationship--after all, the tension at home is enough to drive anyone crazy. <BR/><BR/>Then there's Joshua, a boy who still torments himself over the death of his sister, Angela. He's come to the conclusion that he would be best served by becoming a priest, since he did make God a promise. But he's become increasingly worried about his best friend, Andy, who has started hanging around with Victor, a guy that gives Josh the creeps. <BR/><BR/>We have Andy, the boy who always has to be the center of attention. His stories get bigger the more he tells them, and there's always a mention of his parent's money in their somewhere. Although he's the one who inadvertently started the events that would change all of their lives, he's not about to take the fall. <BR/><BR/>And lastly the enigmatic Victor, the bad boy that everyone avoids as often as possible. He definitely has a hand in getting people riled up, but what is it about him that draws Andy to him like a moth to a flame? <BR/><BR/>Five teenagers, one gun, one disposed of body. One of the five is now dead, and another one soon will be. One goes crazy, one loses his mind with grief, and one will end up in prison. But how does this happen, to whom, and why? Pick up a copy of ON THE HEAD OF A PIN to find out--it's a great mystery for teens and adults alike.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2007

    AMAZING!

    On The Head Of a Pin is one of the best books i have ever read! i could hardly put it down.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2007

    Best book ever!!

    I REALLY enjoyed this book! It is sad, yet exciting and suspencful! I would recomend it to anyone!!!! I really loved this book and it is my favorite! I will read it over and over!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2006

    Courtesy of Teens Read Too

    When you open ON THE HEAD OF A PIN to read what the book is about, the first line that jumps out at you is 'one thoughtless act can impact many lives.' This is the basis for Mary Beth Miller's latest release, and it definitely holds true for the characters of ON THE HEAD OF A PIN. Five teenagers, all as different as can be. There's Helen, the beautiful Homecoming Queen who didn't ask for her title. She wants nothing more than to finish high school and go away to college, so that she can finally bring her relationship with her boyfriend, Michael, out into the open. Her parents don't understand what she could possibly see in him, a boy already graduated from high school who spends his free time painting pictures. He's not the type of boy her parents want to see their daughter with, even if she does claim to love him. He comes from a questionable family, and he's definitely not the upstanding guy Helen should be dating. Then there's Michael himself, a young man who spends all of his time either avoiding his father, taking care of his younger brother, Richie, working at a garage fixing cars, or taking his canvases into the woods to paint. Although he loves Helen and wants to be with her, he understands why her parents are hesitant about their relationship--after all, the tension at home is enough to drive anyone crazy. Then there's Joshua, a boy who still torments himself over the death of his sister, Angela. He's come to the conclusion that he would be best served by becoming a priest, since he did make God a promise. But he's become increasingly worried about his best friend, Andy, who has started hanging around with Victor, a guy that gives Josh the creeps. We have Andy, the boy who always has to be the center of attention. His stories get bigger the more he tells them, and there's always a mention of his parent's money in their somewhere. Although he's the one who inadvertently started the events that would change all of their lives, he's not about to take the fall. And lastly the enigmatic Victor, the bad boy that everyone avoids as often as possible. He definitely has a hand in getting people riled up, but what is it about him that draws Andy to him like a moth to a flame? Five teenagers, one gun, one disposed of body. One of the five is now dead, and another one soon will be. One goes crazy, one loses his mind with grief, and one will end up in prison. But how does this happen, to whom, and why? Pick up a copy of ON THE HEAD OF A PIN to find out--it's a great mystery for teens and adults alike.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2006

    On the head of a Pin

    I loved it and my students do as well. It doesn't top Aimee but I love how Mary Beth takes you inside the minds of her characters.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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