Thomas Allen & Son is Canada’s leading independent distributor of books, stationery and calendars


The Sin-Eater's Confession

The Sin-Eater's Confession
Ilsa J. Bick By (author)
Order Qty:
Review Order

Lerner Publishing Group

Limited ***

7.5 X 5.1 in
296 pg

YOUNG ADULT FICTION / Social Themes / Bullying
Also Available As:
  Review Order  


Capitol Choices: Noteworthy Books for Children — 2013 — Winner
Cream of the Crop for Children's and Young Adult Literature — 2013 — Winner
Independent Publisher Book Award — 2014 — Winner
Kirkus Best Teen Books of the Year — 2013 — Winner
Tayshas Reading List — 2013 — Winner
Westchester Fiction Award — 2014 — Winner
Wisconsin Library Association's Outstanding Book by a Wisconsin Author — 2014 — Winner
YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults — 2014 — Winner


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?


"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." —School Library JournalJournal

"Bick's latest is refreshingly messy in its psychology, boasting a narrator who blunders repeatedly at critical moments and an author who will not let him, or readers, off the hook without a fight. While soldiering in Afghanistan, Ben writes a confession regarding his final semester in high school, when his friendship with a shy farm boy, Jimmy, exploded into local scandal. Without Ben's permission, Jimmy published a photo of him that appears rather erotic, throwing Jimmy's parents into a rage and Ben into a storm of gossip. The tumult climaxes when Ben sees Jimmy's brutal (possible hate crime?) murder. For self-protective reasons Ben does not go to the police—and so begins a series of cover-ups that have him doubting everything down to his own feelings for Jimmy and his interpretation of events. Bick proves again she is a writer to her core, never at a loss for things to say and uninterested in easy answers. Her handling of Ben's increasing paranoia and delusion is nimble, making this a violent, and very smart, take-no-prisoners experience." —BooklistJournal

"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." —VOYAJournal

"Bick has fashioned a disturbing novel that explores issues of personal identity, orientation, community values, and responsibility. Instead of going to college, Ben is serving in Afghanistan and is about to volunteer for a dangerous mission. This book presents his thoughts over a two-day period, as he tries to understand events of the previous year. When a neighbor's son won a national photography contest with a picture of Ben, questions swirled, rumors spread, and conflicts arose. Many in the community were quick to label both boys, ultimately leading to a brutal attack. Ben has information he should have shared with authorities at the time, but has no answers even now. This is a difficult book to read, both because of its unsettling content and because of its intense introspection; however, for the right reader the novel offers an engrossingly realistic entry into a young man's coming of age." —Library Media ConnectionJournal

"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." --starred, Kirkus ReviewsJournal

"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." --starred, Publishers WeeklyJournal

Author Bio

Ilsa J. Bick is a child psychiatrist, as well as a film scholar, surgeon wannabe, former Air Force major, and an award-winning, best-selling author of short stories, e-books, and novels. She has written extensively in the Star Trek, Battletech, Mechwarrior: Dark Age, and Shadowrun universes. Her original stories have been featured in numerous anthologies, magazines and online venues. Ilsa's YA paranormal, Draw the Dark, was also a semifinalist for the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (as Stalag Winter). Ilsa currently lives with her family and other furry creatures in rural Wisconsin and across the street from the local Hebrew cemetery. One thing she loves about the neighbors: They're very quiet and come around for sugar only once in a blue moon.