The Sin-Eater’s Confession: One Of The Most Disturbing Books I’ve Ever Read

The Sin-Eater’s Confession is written by Ilsa J. Bick. It was published in 2013 by Carolrhoda Lab. Bick’s website can be found here.

Genre: Young Adult, Tough Read, Realistic


“To Whom It May Concern:

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.”

~Inside Flap


My hand shook as I dragged off my glasses, closed my eyes. My head had gone airy and my stomach fisted. In another moment, I thought I just might be sick all over those beautiful pictures in that stupid magazine.

I like candids. That’s what Jimmy had said. Because it’s when they don’t think you’re looking that you catch people being themselves.


Jimmy had caught me.

~Bick 39-40

Yeah, bag the clothes in a black contractor’s bag, so no one can see inside. Sunday was bagel morning in our house. I could set my alarm, be sure I got up before anyone else. Hell, before the bagel place even opened. Then swing by the pizza place first. That’s on the other end of town. No one will be there. Stuff the bag into a dumpster, then head the other way, grab bagels, be back home in a half hour, tops.

Or maybe not. I could just wash the scrubs and sweatshirt. So what if I’d ripped the knee? The only blood was mine, and that wasn’t a crime. I could even throw the Chucks into the machine. Yeah, pitching them was stupid. What if someone found the bag? Then they’d wonder why I needed to get rid of my clothes, and how would I explain that?

~Bick 129

Cover Art

Warnings: Swearing, murder, violence, graphic imagery

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Rating: 2/5

What I Liked:

I love Ilsa J. Bick. I love her Ashes trilogy. I love her writing, even though I don’t much like her content material.  I also like her ability to really portray the inside of the adolescent mind and its confusion and worries. I liked the emphasis she placed (through Ben) on the fact that he couldn’t really remember what happened, that he might be making things up to make his conscience feel better. The confusion and the terror were portrayed really well; she’s a top-notch writer.

Yeah, I don’t know what this is either.

What I Didn’t Like:

Wow, Ben. You’re really, really stupid. You’re possibly the first first-person narrator that I’ve actively disliked.

This book just did not sit well with me. Graphic murder, graphic description of the body two days after the fact…ugh. The whole topic was just unsettling. Also, the way she portrayed Christians just made me sick to my stomach. There were no sympathetic Christians in this book (Brooke was okay, I guess, but she was more New Age-y than anything); they were all emo-goth fundamentalists with a penchant for black (seriously? At least it wasn’t long skirts and beards), rock music, and child abuse, with an emo-goth hippie pastor (who may or may not be a molester and murderer). And I’m not denying that there are Christians out there who are like the ones portrayed in the book, but there are also many, many others who are not like that and who never get portrayed positively, because Christians are Evil, Crazy Folk. The only bright light is that it’s only Ben’s assumption that the Christians stoned and axed Jimmy to death, and it’s brought up several times that Ben’s memory is not to be trusted. But, still, like I said—no Christians were portrayed positively. And that’s just smacks of propaganda.

Overall Review:

The Sin-Eater’s Confession is a tough book to get through. The content is unsettling (to say the least) and Ben is not a very likeable first-person narrator. Bick also seems to be mostly trying to make a point (or several points) with the book rather than tell a story and so it gets very heavy-handed at times. But at least the writing is great?

Coming Up Next: The Woman Who Rides Like a Man

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