cover image The Sin Eater

The Sin Eater

Gary D. Schmidt. Dutton Books, $15.99 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-525-67541-9

What could be the premise of a grim YA problem story-the fatal cancer of one parent and subsequent suicide of the other-becomes, in this engrossing first novel, the point of departure for a profound and lyrical meditation on life and the importance of shared history. A few months after his mother dies, middle schooler Cole and his widowed father move in with his maternal grandparents, the Emersons, on their ancestral farm in a tiny New Hampshire village; six months later, Dad shoots himself on Christmas Eve. With its archetypal rural setting, its complex skein of village lore and its evocation of the turning seasons, the novel has a timeless, mythic quality, enhanced by the myriad stories that Grandpa recounts to Cole of their forebears. Indeed, as Cole realizes, his mother and other Emersons of yore are more present than Dad, who fades away into unreality even before he takes his own life. Weaving his tale with calm grace, Schmidt shows how the past holds keys to the present, and how stories can keep loved ones alive. Ages 10-14. (Oct.)