Synopses & Reviews
Twelve-year old Jason is accused of the brutal murder of a young girl. Is he innocent or guilty? The shocked town calls on an interrogator with a stellar reputation: he always gets a confession. The confrontation between Jason and his interrogator forms the chilling climax of this terrifying look at what can happen when the pursuit of justice becomes a personal crusade for victory at any cost.
From the Hardcover edition.
When 12-year-old Jason--the last person known to see a young murdered girl alive--is suspected of her murder, the police bring in an expert interrogator, a man who always gets a confession. When they meet face to face, the truth will come out. A "Publishers Weekly" Best Book.
About the Author
Robert Cormiers many acclaimed novels include the classics The Chocolate War and I Am the Cheese. He is a recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award, honoring his lifetime contribution to writing for teens.
Reading Group Guide
1. The title of this novel is drawn from two lines of a poem by William Butler Yeats, “The Circus Animals Desertion.” How does the phrase “the rag and bone shop” (i.e., a place where the worst castoffs end up) sum up the essence of this novel? What is Trent saying about his life when he quotes these two lines? (p. 71) And when he shifts into the final phase of the interrogation and remembers the first line? (p. 123)
2. After Jason vanquishes the bully Bobo Kelton with one blow, “he didnt think hed ever hit anybody again but he had proved himself capable of doing it.” (p. 26) How does the second part of that sentence become a weapon later for Trent? Why does hitting Bobo mean an end to Jasons tears? Is the principal right when he says violence never solves anything?
3. Trents deceased wife Lottie had told him, “You are what you do.” Why, coming from her, is this an accusation? How, coming from Trent himself at the end, is it a death sentence? Is it true that people are what they do, not only in their jobs, but in the sum total of all their acts, good and bad? Can this be changed?
4. Sarah Downes (and also Carl Seaton) compares Trent to a priest. How are Trents interrogations like what a priest does in the confessional? But what crucial differences in Trents intentions and capabilities make the outcome for his “perps” entirely different?
5. The exact definitions of the following words are important to understanding the ideas that underlie Cormiers themes of guilt, innocence, and forgiveness. Look up admission, confession, absolution, indictment, and remission and notice how their definitions overlap and where they differ. How are these terms central to this story?
6. What are the heavy external and internal pressures on Trent to get a confession from Jason? In real life, is it possible that this kind of pressure may result in hasty convictions of innocent people? Have you heard of any such cases? What might be done to keep this from happening?
7. Trent says he has “rules and regulations” for interrogations. What are some of these strategies that relate to the preliminary scenario, the physical set-up of the room, and the subtleties of psychological intimidation? How do these interrogation techniques affect the suspect?
8. “Thrust and parry” is a phrase Trent uses to describe the interrogation. From what sport does this expression come, and what image does it evoke? As the questioning proceeds, Trent suddenly knows irrevocably that Jason is innocent. How does he talk himself out of acting on this realization? What would have been the consequences if he had allowed himself to follow his conscience?
9. A stunning plot twist takes us by surprise when Trent emerges into the hall after he has tricked Jason into “confessing” and is told by Sarah Downes that Brad Bartlett has just admitted to killing his sister. Suddenly everything is different. What are the present and future implications of this new situation for Trent? For Jason? What emotions might they each have felt at this moment that they didnt feel?
10. In the end, Jasons view of reality has been badly twisted by Trents perverse questioning and his own false confession. What does he tell himself to justify his plan to kill Bobo? How will this action restore his self-respect? If he carries through on this murder, who will then need to confess?
Discussion questions prepared by Patty Campbell, author of Presenting Robert Cormier (Twayne, Dell) and 1989 winner of the ALAs Grolier Foundation Award for distinguished service to young adults and libraries.
In Robert Cormiers unforgettable novels, an individual often stands alone, fighting for what is right-or just to survive-against powerful, sinister, and sometimes evil people. His books look unflinchingly at tyranny and the abuse of power, at treachery and betrayal, at guilt and forgiveness, love and hate, and the corruption of innocence. Cormiers gripping stories explore some of the darker corners of the human psyche, but always with a moral focus and a probing intelligence that compel readers to examine their own feelings and ethical beliefs.
The questions that follow are intended to spur discussion and to provoke thoughtful readers to contemplate some of the issues of identity, character, emotion, and morality that make Cormiers books so compelling