The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 7, 2013

Cari Rerat: Short novel chock-full of interesting characters

By Cari Rerat
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — In "Blank Confession" by Pete Hautman, Shayne Blank is the new kid in town. He dresses in black, rides an old BMW motorcycle and is just as mysterious as those two things make him appear.

Detective Rawls learns this fairly quickly when Shayne comes into the police station to confess to murdering someone.

But the who and the how come later. First we have to get to know some others: narrator Mikey Martin, his sister Marie and Jon Brande.

Mikey is a sharp-dressed, vertically challenged outsider whose smart mouth regularly gets him into trouble. Jon is a dashing, drug-dealing bully who is dating Marie. When Jon gives Mikey his stash just before a police search of the school, Mikey hides the drugs in a bathroom trash can and loses it.

Shayne happens to start school and befriend Mikey the day this happens. Shayne initially thinks Mikey's suits and sarcastic wit make him a "dink," but eventually learns that there is more under Mikey's armor of fashion and humor. Mikey can't help but respect Shayne's calm, calculating demeanor and be intrigued by his evasive and inconsistent answers to all personal questions.

When Mikey tells Jon about the lost drugs and Jon starts bullying him into paying for them, it seems natural that Shayne would step in. Mikey appreciates Shayne's help and friendship, especially when Shayne (who is almost as small as Mikey) reveals his amazing hand-to-hand combat skills during a fight with one of Jon's thuggish friends. Unfortunately, Jon and Shayne "are like two freight trains on a collision course," with Mikey and Marie stuck in the middle.

This slim novel is told through alternating perspectives and flashbacks. Shayne tells his story in the interview room, while Mikey narrates the flashbacks.

At 170 pages, "Blank Confession" is a quick and powerful read. Each character is fully fleshed out, and the tensions between Mikey, Jon, Shayne and Marie are palpable. Hautman deals with a lot of issues here Ñ bullying, drug use, family difficulties, domestic violence Ñ but the story never gets bogged down by the issues within its pages.

"Blank Confession" is a great read for anyone who likes character-driven stories with a little mystery. Violence and drug and alcohol use makes this a book appropriate for mature teens and adults.

"Blank Confession" will be the first book discussed by the Joplin Public Library's new "Lunch Bunch" teen book club. The Lunch Bunch will read and discuss books nominated for the Missouri Association of School Librarians' Truman Readers Award and Gateway Readers Awards, as well as the American Library Association's Teen Top Ten Award.

These three award programs choose their winners through teen votes. Participants in the Lunch Bunch book club will get the opportunity to vote for their favorite nominees if they are not already participating in these awards through their school.

The Lunch Bunch meets on the third Saturday of every month from 1 to 2 p.m. in the library's large meeting room. Teens participating in the Lunch Bunch should bring their own lunch to each meeting. Registration is not required.

Cari Rerat is the teen librarian for the Joplin Public Library.