Sarah Salter 

Sarah Salter is a graduate of Methodist College with a BA in English. An employee of the NC Church Education Ministries of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC), her work has appeared in Methodist College’s Tapestry magazine and Evangel, the monthly magazine of the IPHC. She is a member of ACFW and is currently working on her first novel. Sarah travels regularly with short term medical mission teams, but makes her home in Central NC with her dog, Sadie. Visit her website at

The Last Sin Eater

The Last Sin Eater is one of those rare books that chose me instead of the other way around. As much as I love Francine Rivers, I felt no particular urgency to read this book. My mother said it best: “The name sure doesn’t make it sound very enjoyable.” I had to agree. “Sin Eater” sounds like some kind of grotesque horror movie monster. I read half a dozen other phenomenal books by Francine Rivers, but this one I just tiptoed past it like it was a great, sleeping monster.

The Last Sin Eater finally caught up with me on a Saturday afternoon when I got an excited phone call from my favorite Book Buddy.

“Sarah, I just finished the most amazing book and you have to read it!” She told me the name of the book and I cringed, but I promised I would give it a chance. Three days later, it arrived in my mailbox. I ripped open the envelope and found a treasure.

In The Last Sin Eater, Rivers introduces us to ten-year-old Cadi Forbes and her community of Scottish-Welsh settlers in the Appalachian Mountains. Cadi lives in a cove with a variety of vivid, quirky country folk. But in the midst of this patchwork quilt of colorful personalities are dark secrets, heavy burdens, and deep superstitions. As young as she is, Cadi has secrets and burdens of her own.

Cadi’s people believe in God, but they also believe that for their sins to be forgiven, their sins must be “eaten” by a man called the Sin Eater.” When a person dies, this exile is summoned from Dead Man’s Mountain so that he can attend the funeral ceremony and “eat” the sins of the person who has died. Cadi sees this firsthand at her granny’s funeral. Weighed down by the guilt and shame of her own sins, Cadi feels that she can’t bear to live her whole life with her burden. She decides that she must find the Sin Eater and have him eat her sins, or kill herself. When a man of God comes to their cove, he challenges Cadi, the Sin Eater, and the beliefs the community has held for so long.

Even though I had to be practically tricked into opening this book, I now count it among my special favorites. I found myself walking the woods with Cadi, hoping that she would find the truth and be healed. I ached for these people who were doomed to live their earthly lives trapped in their sins. I became emotionally invested in their plight, and in the process they became my teachers. Cadi, the adventurer with a hunger for truth, showed me that finding the truth is worth fighting whatever deceitful powers try to force you to accept a lie. Her community demonstrated how to allow change, knowing that change is the only way God’s redemption can happen. Those are pretty profound lessons to be found within a little paperback book!

Obviously, when the movie was released, I was interested to see what Hollywood had done to this sweet redemption story. Clutching a box of tissues—because I cry even in funny movies—I sat in the dark and watched Cadi’s world come to life. As a screenwriter, I know it is impossible to move 325 pages of a novel to the screen unchanged. However, Michael Landon Jr. and his group of actors did a brilliant job with this adaptation. They managed to capture the essence of the story. The pain and fear, hurt and failure, hope, love, and redemption are all evident in this movie.

The main weakness of the movie is that there is no way to explore many of the characters and relationships that are so crucial to the strength of the book. Some characters are left out altogether. Cadi’s brother, Iwan, whom we meet in the novel, does not make it to the screen. But we also don’t get to see as much interaction between Cadi and the people who are shaping her. The most painful consequence of this is that we aren’t able to explore Cadi’s painful relationship with her mother, Fia. This is one of the major, driving influences in Cadi, yet we get only a small taste of it in the movie.

I’m glad I took the risk to get past the name, The Last Sin Eater. I recommend both the book and the movie to anyone who has ever felt guilt, shame, or abandonment, and to anyone who feels a need for love, peace, and reconciliation. Let me go one step further and suggest that if you must make a choice, choose the book. As moving and special as the movie is, the book is so much more poignant, full and complete. To quote Cadi Forbes, “It was one of the things that frustrated me most, only hearing part of the story and not the whole.”

Sara Salter