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.