Given that Pete Hautman won a National Book Award for his book Godless, I picked up his latest work, Blank Confession, with high expectations. I was very disappointed. I have to give the book some credit though, since it did keep me interested enough to finish. I’ll even admit I liked it at first. The description on the back introduces the reader to a mysterious teenage character, Shayne Blank, who confesses to a murder, creating more questions than it solves. Most importantly, “Who is this boy?” The concept was great, but the rest of the book’s elements didn’t do it justice.
The book’s format, though unique, didn’t work. The novel is written in chapters that alternate between Shayne and a cop, explaining his crime and the events leading up to it, and those same events as seen through the eyes of one of Shayne’s friends. The scenes in the interview room where Shayne is confessing had the potential to be tense, dramatic, or at least interrogative–but they were none of those things. Sometimes the story relied on the police officer’s flashbacks to fill in the holes in the plot (he’s incredibly laid-back and hates his job), which distract from the suspense that should be building. The rest of the story was told from the point of view of Shayne’s friend, Mikey. Most of the actual story and character development took place there, but it was a bit awkward. I felt like the only reason it was there was to make the plot-twist ending less expected. A lot of the characters were either underdeveloped or made up of clichés, as if Hautman left a trail of breadcrumbs leading to an easy literary analysis. “Of course, ___ happened!”
I had one thought that would have made the whole book better–had the entire novel been set in the interview room, it would have helped add suspense while retaining the mystery surrounding Shayne. Why not just bring Mikey and the other characters there, too? That would eliminate all the hints Mikey drops about the ending, and make it easier to hide the surprise.
As much as this book didn’t work for me, there are things I appreciated. It was clear that Hautman did his research; he created very believable lives for the teenage characters. I saw definite clichés that made a lot of the plot predictable, but some moments seemed very real. I’d recommend this book to middle school/early high school readers looking for a summer read that isn’t too complicated, but still somewhat enjoyable.
Sound like your kind of book? You can purchase it through Amazon HERE.