Arriving at the doors of a new high school one day is Shayne Blank, perched on a battered BMW motorcycle and dressed all in black. No one knows much about his past, including Mikey Martin, who is the shortest guy in the 11th grade and likes to slink from class to class and hide behind thrift-store suits. Is Shayne’s dad on a secret mission to Afghanistan and his mother in the Witness Protection Program, or are his parents in Uganda working with Doctors Without Borders? That’s just part of the mystery as Shayne sits in the police station, waiting to confess to murder, in National Book Award winner Pete Hautman’s latest thriller, Blank Confession.

Shayne befriends Mikey on the same day that Mikey’s sister’s drug-dealing boyfriend, Jon, asks him to hold his stash—and on the same day the local law enforcement decides to take a sweep through the school. After Jon threatens Mikey for tossing his supply during the raid, Shayne intervenes, giving Mikey pointers on how to deal with the thug and trying to protect his sister from Jon’s escalating drug use and control. Short, riveting chapters alternate between Mikey’s version of the story and Shayne’s confession to a detective in the police station’s interview room. Each perspective fills in some gaps but leads to more questions: Who died? How? And why?

As readers try to solve these questions along with the detective, they’ll be just as curious to find out more about enigmatic Shayne and his background and motives. The suspenseful story is as much Mikey’s as it is Shayne’s, as Mikey comes to terms, often through a game of checkers with his Haitian grandfather, with his self-esteem, bullying and the cycle of violence. Readers will continue to wonder about the fate of both boys long after the confession has been revealed.

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