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The Sin Eater Hardcover – October 1, 1996


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 11 and up
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Juvenile; 1st edition (October 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525675418
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525675419
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 7 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #560,005 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Grade 6-8. This intriguing title explores both the immediate and the enduring benefits of preserving family history. Two years after his mother's death, Cole and his seriously depressed father move in with his mother's aging parents on their New Hampshire farm. Dad holes up in a bedroom, but Cole fits in quickly, taking up his share of the chores and making new friends. Tending the family graveyard one day, Cole comes upon a mystery: a nameless tombstone with the inscription, "Who Are We To Judge?" Schmidt weaves the boy's search to discover who lies beneath that stone into a rich tapestry of small-town life: seasonal and longer cycles; memorable residents both living and dead; rivalries, friendships, and interfamily relations that sometimes go back for generations. In the anecdotes and reminiscences Cole gathers, he finds a piece of the puzzle in the century-old story of the Sin Eater, a man who, it was believed, could ease the pain and guilt of others by assuming their sins. Cole also learns a great deal about his mother from the memories of those who knew her?and, after tragedy strikes again, about his father, too. The prose is infused with feeling, and shot through with sobering, hilarious, startling, lovely, always well-told incidents. While some of the subplots are not as fully developed as others and the story occasionally breaks down under the weight of its own complexity, it is nonetheless a haunting, thoroughly admirable fictional debut.?John Peters, New York Public Library
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Gary D. Schmidt is the author of the Newbery Honor and Printz Honor book Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. His most recent novel is The Wednesday Wars. He is a professor of English at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 8, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book is a true gem. It is beautifully written and constructed. The reviewer from Booklist seems to have misunderstood the book when she said that the Sin Eater element was not well integrated -- all of the elements of this book are perfectly integrated. It is, in fact, the Sin Eater "character"(as well as Cole's grandparents, friends and community) that allow Cole to cope with and understand his loss. This is a truly beautiful book with many layers of meaning. It is about the value of family history and experience, the past, community, faith... It's a book that will make you think. It's a book you will want to reread. Don't take it lightly and don't miss it!
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By L. Estelle on October 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Overall I was very pleased with this book. Being familiar with the myth of the "Sin Eater", I was very excited about the topic of what I thought the book would present. After reading about one third of the way through however, I found it slightly odd and frankly disappointing that there had been only a brief sentence or two about a sin eater which appeared within the first chapter of the book. Not to be swayed, however, the book up to that point was filled with emotion and heartache. A young boy and his father return to the family farm after his mother's funeral to start a new life with his grandparents. There is an emptiness that rings through that pages that anyone can take to heart. Cole, the now motherless boy, narrates the text filled with daydreamed memories and a mournful spirit.

Cole is not the only the reader routes for throughout the book. The grandparents are overflowing with a familiarity to my own family that is difficult to overlook. The language that Schmidt uses in anything from dialogue to description is precise and easy to relate to. The images that he paints with words almost pop in the head without purposeful thought.

I did find the plot to move quite slowly for the first 100 pages or so. Although the background and daily observations were necessary to tie the whole story together, I did find myself aching for action. Although the title of the book leads one to believe Schmidt will tell a glorified tale of a real and local sin eater, that is not the case. That may leave some disappointment, but the book adds the myth just enough to flavor the true plot. The novel also brings in minor plots about making friends, being compassionate and trying to make the best out of heartache and sorrow.
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Format: Paperback
"Sin Eater" was a delightful yet semi-depressing story. The protagonist (Cole) is a young boy who lost his mother to cancer and lost his father to depression.

You just want to shake the father and tell him to get a grip! Grieving comes in all forms though and Cole ends up being the stronger of the two. The father and Cole move to New Hampshire to live with Cole's grandparents. The relationship between the two grandparents is heartwarming and comical. It makes you wonder...would the grandfather have acted the same as the father if he lost his wife?

The story revolves around death and family. Cole moves to New Hampshire after his mother's death, he bonds with his grandparents who seem to meet his needs and he makes new friends (good friends). In the midst of all this, Cole stumbles onto the history of the Sin Eater. As he learns more about the sin eater, he learns more about his ancestry.

Anyway, the end will leave you wondering and questioning, what would make a man want to give up on life? Obviously he loved his wife tremendously. His actions could be considered very romantic instead of depressing. Is love really that deep?

The grandparents are wonderful. I love the relationship they share with each other. The cantankerous ole fool! lol. They're funny and bring a sense of groundedness to the story.

Gary Schmidt has a way of writing that makes you feel like you're there. You can almost smell the meadows and the hayfields and the manure! He's very descriptive! He has a very pretty way of writing. The words he choses and the way he describes things...it's just very pretty!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 23, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is an amazing novel that is truly an example of fine writing. Ilene Cooper's review is fairly accurate. However, she did miss the point in one aspect. I read this book to my Seventh grade English students and they did grasp the "Ambiguous" themes and thoroughly enjoyed the description. The characters are sincere and well thought out. They were real. I am offended by the comment that only "Astute" readers will grasp the concept of the book. Not only should Schmidt not be under-estimated, the target audience should also not be under-estimated. I strongly recommend that this book be read. Schmidt has given young adults what they needed, a book that treats them like the young adults that they are. This book and the author will be a powerful asset in any library. I intend it to be part of my curriculum next school year.
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