The Sin-Eater's Confession

( 2 )


People in Merit, Wisconsin, always said Jimmy was . . . you know. But people said all sorts of stupid stuff. Nobody really knew anything. Nobody really knew Jimmy.

I guess you could say I knew Jimmy as well as anyone (which was not very well). I knew what scared him. And I knew he had dreams—even if I didn't understand them. Even if he nearly ruined my life to pursue them.

Jimmy's dead now, and I definitely know that better than anyone. I know ...

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The Sin-Eater's Confession

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People in Merit, Wisconsin, always said Jimmy was . . . you know. But people said all sorts of stupid stuff. Nobody really knew anything. Nobody really knew Jimmy.

I guess you could say I knew Jimmy as well as anyone (which was not very well). I knew what scared him. And I knew he had dreams—even if I didn't understand them. Even if he nearly ruined my life to pursue them.

Jimmy's dead now, and I definitely know that better than anyone. I know about blood and bone and how bodies decompose. I know about shadows and stones and hatchets. I know what a last cry for help sounds like. I know what blood looks like on my own hands.

What I don't know is if I can trust my own eyes. I don't know who threw the stone. Who swung the hatchet? Who are the shadows? What do the living owe the dead?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Bick (Drowning Instinct) crafts a powerful tale of bigotry and murder in small-town Wisconsin. High school senior Ben imagines he will go to Yale and become a doctor, just like his mother has always encouraged him to do. When a star athlete dies in an accident, Ben helps the boy’s family out and befriends his younger brother, Jimmy, who dreams of becoming a great photographer. Jimmy’s evangelical father fears that his son’s hobby and friendship with Ben are indicators of homosexuality, and the rumors and conflicts that emerge over the following months result in Ben witnessing Jimmy’s brutal murder. Ben’s attempts to understand what he saw, as well as his uncertainties about his own sexuality (Ben’s friendships with Jimmy and a classmate named Brooke are both sources of self-doubt), drive the rest of the novel. Told entirely in flashback from Ben’s perspective as a medic in Afghanistan, Bick’s story isn’t a mystery in the whodunit sense. Instead, it’s a potent examination of teenage emotions and reactions to peer and parental pressures, and to the evil that people are capable of. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Mar.)
Children's Literature - Jill Walton
You will not be comfortable nor will you reach the suspected conclusion in this young adult novel, but you will never forget the characters and the events. Ben, a senior in high school, focuses on academics and work. No play, no time for sports or girlfriends—truly no time. His mother's ambitions for him are creating some irritation before his life falls into chaos because of the success of Jimmy, the fifteen-year-old photographer, a kid Ben used to feel sorry for. How does a Yale bound senior in high school become a medic in Afghanistan by choice? Ben will tell you why, but does he really know more than that. And what would be the consequences if he confessed that he had witnessed a crime? No good would come of it, he is sure, because he would be responsible for totally ruining his life with no resolution for anyone. And so Ben is sentenced to carry the sins of the world. Bick, the author, is known for avoiding stereotypes and provoking questions that are not resolved. That lack of definitive answers leads to deep, disturbing, and electrifying insights about what really defines values for individuals. Art, sexuality, and religion collide in people's interpretations, young and old, in this book and in this world. Young adult readers who are willing to be uncomfortable will grow with this read. Their brains will evolve. Reviewer: Jill Walton
VOYA - Kathleen Beck
On a Marine base in Afghanistan now, Ben records the events of his senior year in the small town of Merit, Wisconsin. He was a top student and all-around high achiever, looking forward to pre-med at Yale. When school football hero Del dies in a car accident, good guy Ben volunteers to help on the family farm. While they work, Del's younger brother, Jimmy, confides his dream to become an art photographer, a goal vehemently opposed by his rigid, fundamentalist father. When Jimmy wins a national contest with a subtly erotic photograph of Ben sleeping in the hay, everything hits the fan. Rumors spread—Jimmy's gay, and if he is, Ben must be too. Ben is torn between supporting Jimmy and getting as far away as possible. Then, one dark night, Ben witnesses a horrifying attack that leaves the younger boy fatally wounded. Afraid he will be suspected, Ben tells no one, and the lies begin to escalate. What happened to that honest, straightforward kid he used to be? Who is he, really? This gut-wrenching story is like watching a terrible accident in slow motion. Jimmy's death is graphically described. Ben's descent into self-doubt is hard to witness. Much is left ambiguous and unresolved. Fans of Bick's Ashes zombie trilogy will be surprised if they pick this up, but those who do will find ample food for thought and discussion. Reviewer: Kathleen Beck
Kirkus Reviews
Stationed in Afghanistan, medic Ben spends a long day drafting a detailed confession about the tragedy that threw his life off course two years earlier. When the tiny town of Merit, Wis., loses its football hero to a drunk-driving accident, his family needs help on their dairy farm. High school senior Ben steps up to help. His mother hopes it'll give him fodder for his Yale admissions essay; Ben, unsure he wants to follow the path she's laid out for him, just likes helping the stern Mr. and Mrs. Lange and their 15-year-old son, Jimmy. When Jimmy wins a national photography contest with sensual photographs of his own father and Ben (both taken without permission), rumors that the baby-faced Jimmy is gay jump into overdrive--and start circulating about Ben, who then distances himself from Jimmy. When Ben witnesses a horrific crime and does nothing, his life spins out of control; he begins to doubt himself, his senses, his motives…even his connection to reality. Bick's compelling tale manages to be a blistering confessional and a page-turning whodunit (or maybe what-really-happened) all in one. Ben's thoughts on sexuality, the dangers of rumor, individual freedom and personal responsibility, among other topics, will resonate with teens, who won't mind the lack of a tidy end. Readers won't be able to look away even if they find they don't much like--or trust--Ben. (Fiction. 14 & up)
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—When Del is killed in a head-on collision on prom night, Ben and his father, a deputy sheriff in their small Wisconsin town, pitch in to help on the family's farm. This brings them into contact with Del's younger brother. Jimmy seems to be a lost soul and Ben wants to help him, as he would a younger brother. Jimmy confides that he would like to be a photographer, admitting that he likes taking photos when the subjects do not know they are being photographed, and Ben never realizes that he is the subject of one of these candid shots until it is published. The firestorm that the innocent yet sensual photo creates turns the lives of both boys upside down, and the resulting homophobia results in Jimmy's murder. Reminiscent of Bick's Drowning Instinct (Carolrhoda Lab, 2012), the story is told in flashback, this time in diary-type letters. He feels guilt; perhaps he is to blame for what happened. He tries to work out who killed Jimmy, why he made the decisions he did, and why he is compelled to ingest not only his own sins, but Jimmy's as well. He exiles himself, first from his classmates, and then from the future his parents have planned for him-including Yale and medical school. Instead, he becomes a medic and chases death in Afghanistan. He learns that he is ready to stop running from and start running toward his life-whatever happens. He does not act as a moral beacon for others; he wants to escape the situation, and yet finds that his conscience will not let him. This novel should be in all YA collections, and would be interesting reading for members of GSA's.—Suanne B. Roush, Osceola High School, Seminole, FL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780761356875
  • Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/28/2012
  • Pages: 290
  • Sales rank: 582,964
  • Age range: 14 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: HL730L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.40 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Ilsa J. Bick is a child psychiatrist, as well as a film scholar, surgeon wannabe, former Air Force major, and award-winning author of dozens of short stories and novels, including the critically acclaimed Draw the Dark and Ashes. Ilsa lives with her family and other furry creatures near a Hebrew cemetery in rural Wisconsin. One thing she loves about the neighbors: They are very quiet and only come around for sugar once in a blue moon.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 14, 2014

    This story really draws you in from the very begining. The chara

    This story really draws you in from the very begining. The characters are deep and their story is dramatic. It makes you say "just one more chapter". The ending was frustrating but I think it was meant to be. Leaves you thinking "what really happened?".

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2013


    The most favorible/greatest book ever...... i wonder if there going to make a movie. But i got to say that i wasnt expecting ben to have such love for jimmy. And shouldve saved him in the forest instead of standing there being shock of what he was watching.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews

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