This novel is about a community of Welsh immigrants who settle in the Appalachian Mountains during the 1850’s. They carry along their unique customs, including the designation of one person to be their sin eater. The sin eater lives apart from everyone, but is summoned when someone dies. Food is placed on the corpse, the sin eater eats it, then declares that he has taken on the sins of the dead person, and that person can now continue on to heaven.
The main character in the story is 10-year-old Cadi, a girl who lives under tremendous guilt for a sin that she thinks may be unforgivable. No one is supposed to visit the sin eater, or even look at him when he comes to eat sins. But Cali is desperate to find the man, in the hopes that he can eat her sin now, instead of waiting until she dies.
What I loved about this book was the thought that everyone is in search of a way to get rid of their sins. Some people think that performing enough good deeds will cancel out their bad deeds. Others think that if they perform certain rituals, their sins will vanish. Still others count on prayers by others to get them out of purgatory and into paradise. The truth is that the God and Creator of earth has given us a way to be free of every sin, without the need for a sin eater.