The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi
I had other books in my pile. I always do. This book called out to me to read it! In some ways, so unlike most of what I have been reading lately, but in other ways (debut novelist), everything I look for in a book-compelling, immersive, character driven, dark at times and somewhat genre defying.
The narrator, 14-year old May, lives in a brutal, patriarchal world where your chosen religion could kill you or the starvation that drives you to steal food, could routinely result in a death sentence. After both parents have died and May has been caught stealing bread, she believes she will be hanged like the other unfortunate girls in her cell. Instead, she is sentenced to become a sin eater-an S branded on her tongue and a heavy metal collar locked on her neck, so all will know her her fate. As a sin eater, May is bound to neither speak to or be spoken, to for the rest of her life. Sin eaters perform funeral rites that allow the dead to shed their earthly sins, so they can ascend to the afterlife. Sin eaters are summoned by the family to hear the dying’s last confession and for each sin, there is a corresponding food that symbolizes each sin. After the person dies, the sin eater returns and as the sin eater consumes the food designated by the dead’s sins, they take each sin into their own souls.
Sin eaters are like lepers in the community and as soon as May is branded as one, no one will look at her or talk to her. She is invisible and considered bad luck to touch. Her only way to learn how to survive, is to find the other existing sin eater in town and learn from her. Death and dying are non-stop and soon May is learning her new life, until the two sin eaters are called to “the Eating” for one of the queen’s ladies. May’s mentor is shocked and stunned to find a deer heart, the food symbolizing the sin of child murder, placed among the food on the coffin of the queen’s lady, which was not part of the original recitation of sins. May’s mentor refuses to eat the heart, which is treason and for which she is taken away and tortured to death. May is determined to find out who put the deer’s heart where it wasn’t supposed to be and who seems willing to murder to protect that secret.
The author, Megan Campisi, is an accomplished playwright, which is perhaps why the narrator pulls you from chapter to chapter, scene to scene-the words grabbing you immediately , in this genre stretching book-historical inspired fiction, threaded with fantasy and a strong dose of mystery. However, for me, it is really all about May’s self-discovery and in this case how she makes her way in the brutal world. If reading this was a sin, I can’t wait to sin again-I highly recommend it!