Monday, January 24, 2011

Blank Confession by Pete Hautman

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 my 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 The YA YA YAs.

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