Yuko Moriguchi, a middle-school teacher in Japan, tells her class that she's resigning from her job. Moriguchi goes on to say her decision is related to the recent death of her four-year-old daughter, Manami, who drowned in a nearby swimming pool. Authorities consider the death an accident but Moriguchi tells a long story that details how two students in the class (whom she calls 'A' and 'B') murdered Manami....and she describes the revenge she's set in motion.
After spring break one of the culprits returns to school while the other finds excuse after excuse to remain at home, essentially becoming a 'hikkomori' (sort of hermit). The student who comes back to class faces retribution from fellow students while the shut-in deteriorates physically and mentally. Meanwhile, the class's new teacher - who doesn't really know what's going on - is determined to help the recluse keep up with classwork and return to school.
The story is told in rotating voices including culprit A, culprit B, the mother of one of the perpetrators, another classmate, and Moriguchi. At first it seems like one of the miscreants - who has a dominant narcissistic personality - was the major player in the illegal activities. However the truth is more complicated.
In some ways the book reminded me of the Columbine massacre in the U.S., where two students who did not appear particularly disturbed planned and carried out a terrible crime. Similarly, the killers in 'Confessions' appear to be under-the-radar sociopaths. In addition, it seems like poor parenting was a major influence on the events of the story, along with the pressure to achieve academic success - demonstrated by the number of Japanese students who attend 'cram school' after regular classes.
This is a well-written story that engaged me and kept me turning the pages. Good book, recommended for fans of literary fiction and mysteries.
Note: Reading the book made me curious about 'hikkomori' so I googled it. The word is a Japanese term for reclusive teens or adults who withdraw from society and become loners. Apparently this phenomenon is not uncommon in Japan and some experts speculate that there are over one million hikkomori in the country.