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Blank Confession by Pete Hautman

January 24, 2011

Shayne Blank looked like a “middle-school bad boy picked up for shoplifting.”

He wasn’t.

Shayne was actually sixteen, at the police station to confess to killing someone. Detective George Rawls usually handled cases involving teenagers, so five minutes before his shift ended, he was handed Shayne’s case.

While Shayne tells his story to Rawls, Mikey Martin tells us his version of the same events. Mikey is the shortest junior at Wellstone High, and the first student to meet Shayne. He was with Shayne when Jon Brande gave Mikey a paper bag and told him to hold onto it for a little while. Mikey didn’t want it—he knew Jon dealt drugs—and when he heard rumors of locker searches and drug sniffing dogs, he got rid of the bag. Only Jon demanded it back, and if Mikey couldn’t return it, then he wanted monetary compensation. Mikey can’t afford to pay Jon, and Shayne quickly became involved in their dispute. But what exactly happened after that and what is Shayne confessing?

Blank Confession gets off to an intriguing start and stays tense from beginning to end. Not unrelentingly so, but in a way that still makes you keep turning pages, curious and unsure of what will happen next. It’s easy to see why Blank Confession made YALSA’s 2011 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers list. While Pete Hautman keeps the story fast-paced, he does take his time letting the story itself develop; we don’t find out right away whom Shayne claims to have killed, or why. Instead, he starts at the beginning, with Shayne’s arrival in school and how he became entangled with Mikey’s problems. Shayne himself is just as big a mystery as the events he and Mikey describe, and it is partly this that keeps the story compelling while we wait to find out about the crime Shayne claims to have committed.

Hautman uses an alternating narrative to great effect in Blank Confession. The chapters are short, with Mikey’s chapters picking up where Rawls’ questioning of Shayne leaves off and vice versa. Mikey’s chapters are written in first-person and the chapters with Rawls and in the interview room are written in third-person from Rawls’ point-of-view, but in both cases, we never get into Shayne’s head. We know only what Mikey and Rawls observe, and what Shayne wants them to know. It makes for a fascinating interplay between what Mikey actually sees happening and what Shayne is—or isn’t—telling Rawls.

Because of this, I thought Hautman wrapped things up a bit too tidily and conveniently. It was nice to have the major questions answered, but I didn’t need as many answers as Hautman provided. On the other hand, I know there are readers who will be pleased by this and find the ending satisfying.

Book source: public library.

Cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 24, 2011 2:08 am

    OOH, that sound good and creepy. I’m learning more and more to love books that don’t tell me everything — I really don’t NEED to know everything and prefer to be left with some wonderings and enigmatic conclusions.

    • January 25, 2011 11:21 am

      Not so much creepy as suspenseful.

      As for needing to know everything or not, I prefer authorial restraint. Though you could probably tell by what I wrote above. Mostly because in books like this one, and first-person mysteries/thrillers/suspense novels in general, readers get their answers in ways or to an extent I don’t always find plausible. In a third-person omniscient narrative, sure, I don’t mind if an author wraps *everything* up. But in a first-person or limited third-person, I expect (okay, want) some questions to remain unanswered, some mysteries to linger. Because what are the odds that they’d get all their answers in real life?

  2. January 24, 2011 6:35 am

    thanks for the review! that reminds me to peep the 2011 yalsa lists too…after i add this to my tbr. :B

    • January 25, 2011 11:24 am

      As usual, there are some books I am shocked made Quick Picks and BBYA/BFYA, and some books I am shocked didn’t make a selected list. This one, though? I completely agree with its spot on the Quick Picks list.

      And, I didn’t mention this in my review, but I hadn’t read anything by Hautman before. Don’t know how it compares to his other books, but I think this one has got a lot of appeal for Gail Giles fans.

  3. starwriter7 permalink
    January 25, 2011 8:27 pm

    This relates to yr. last post about stereotypical Asian immigrant characters. As an Asian Am (short for Asian-American), I totally agree. What’s more, going beyond YA to picturebooks, Lee & Low’s New Voices Award for 2010 went to a story about a Korean-American girl. No inkling of what the story’s about since it’s just been announced.

    It’s cool that Asian or Asian-American stories are even seeing publication but like you said, it rankles when stereotypes form the main characters. BTW, sweet that third world immigrants are having such success with the coming to America or the second generation in America theme. Seems the Hawaii immigrant story didn’t go over big with agents or editors judging from the paucity of such literature. Why do you think that was?

    • January 26, 2011 4:20 pm

      Is there a particular Hawaii immigrant story you’re referring to or do you mean stories about immigration to Hawaii in general? If it’s the latter, well, it’s not like the big NY publishers put out a lot of Hawaii-set fiction in the first place, so it makes sense that they’d publish even fewer immigration-to-Hawaii novels. If you’re refering to a specific story, can you point me toward it? I don’t think I’d be a good agent or editor (though there are times when I think I’d like to give either a try), but I’d be happy to pretend! 🙂

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