Violence, substance abuse, death and depression are just a few of the tough topics acclaimed author Chris Lynch has tackled in his works for young adults. Now, in his latest book for teens, Inexcusable, Lynch delves into the often taboo subject of date rape—and as an intriguing twist, tells the story through the eyes of the accused.
While the topic of date rape is not a personal issue for Lynch—someone else suggested the idea to him—he thinks it's a subject closer to most of us than we probably realize. "The nature of the crime is that I could well be acquainted with someone who has been there without my ever knowing about it," he says. As the father of teenagers, Lynch is highly attuned to the possibilities out there. "I read an interview with John Irving recently where he described the feeling exactly," he says. "'If you have children and have an imagination, you should have enough brains to be worried about everything.'"
Lynch, who grew up in Boston and now lives in Scotland with his family, started writing for young adults as part of his post-graduate course work at Emerson College. He never expected to be writing for this age group, but realized early on that it came easily to him. "To my surprise, I discovered I had a great deal of material from adolescence, and an inclination to speak in that voice." Perhaps that—combined with his concern for his own children—explains why he is so capable of addressing the harsher realities of adolescent life in books such as Freewill (a Printz Honor book about suicide), Dog Eat Dog and Iceman. "Usually I'm writing fairly true-life stuff," Lynch says, "and as far as I've seen, true life is crammed with these issues." Now he finds it harder to sidestep the issues than to get at them. "Tackling serious business feels like we're accomplishing something," says the award-winning author.
And serious business it is, especially in Inexcusable. Lynch's portrait of Keir, the accused date rapist and narrator of the book, is a departure from the usual victim's story of date rape. "I think it's a dangerous idea that any story, no matter how horrific, has only one side," says Lynch. "Perpetrators are made, not born. There is always more to a story, and a story is always much longer than the scene that ends it."
This holds true for Keir, who Lynch is able to show as a genuinely warm, caring, and somewhat vulnerable high school senior. The story follows Keir through various moments leading up to the rape of his best girl friend. "We are all more than our worst qualities and our worst moments," Lynch says, "but often our lives wind up being defined by exactly these." For Keir, a violent football play, an unpunished hazing incident and the constant reminder from others that he is a "good guy" regardless of his actual behavior, leads him to blur the line between right and wrong without being aware of it. "I believe it is incredibly common for people to be in denial about the things they do," Lynch says. "That's what makes so much of the awfulness in the world possible."
As the story progresses, we see several instances—if alternate choices had been made—where the rape could have been prevented. Keir's father, his coach, his siblings or his friends could have stepped in to set this young man straight on various occasions. "If he had been dealt with more forcefully at some of the earlier warning points in his life," Lynch explains, "he could well have been molded into a stronger individual. But instead, he was allowed to devolve by being unchallenged."
Although we are able to sympathize with Keir and his situation, Lynch is not at all dismissive about the heinousness of the crime. "Keir is allowed to see himself as a loveable rogue rather than a genuine threat to society," Lynch points out. "And, I fear this is not an uncommon situation."
Whether Inexcusable will become required reading for young men everywhere is yet to be seen, but opening a discussion of date rape among those who might be at risk—both to as perpetrators and as victims—is certainly a step in the right direction. Copyright 2005 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2006 Spring
When Keir Sarafian cripples an opposing football player, he calls the act "an unfortunately magnificent hit." He defines his heavy drinking as recreational camaraderie, and date rape as a declaration of love. Keir chronicles the events of his senior year in this provocative novel, layering more elaborate excuses on his increasingly violent behavior, and his unreliable narration creeps up on the reader. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2006 #1
"Your actions are important, and you are responsible for them" is a prominent theme in young adult literature; it sneaks into Lynch's provocative new book when readers meet Keir Sarafian, who believes that he alone is important and that anything he does can be justified. When he cripples an opposing football player, Keir spins the act as "an unfortunately magnificent hit." He defines his heavy drinking as recreational camaraderie; wanton vandalism of a Paul Revere statue as upholding the honor of the underappreciated William Dawes; and date rape as a declaration of love. Keir has an answer for everything: "The way it looks is not the way it is," he writes. His unreliable narration creeps up on the reader, who (initially at least) expects the way things look to be the way they are. Keir chronicles the events of his senior year, layering more elaborate excuses on his increasingly violent behavior. He describes himself as a "good guy," but readers gradually discover that popularity does not define goodness. And neither does society, with its sanctioned athletic violence and its ambivalence toward "bad boy" behavior. Keir finally realizes who he is; readers should ask themselves, Is Keir also a part of me? Copyright 2006 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2005 October #2
Lynch has hit a homerun with this provocative, important read about Keir, a self-proclaimed "good guy" headed for college on a football scholarship. With two sisters in college, Keir lives alone with his lonely, widowed father, who treats Keir more like a buddy than a son. After Keir accidentally cripples an opponent during a football game, things really go awry, especially since his victim lets him off the hook with a letter of forgiveness. With his name cleared, his peers christen him "Killer," a nickname that seems to give him license to do all sorts of unsavory things, such as hazing classmates, vandalizing a statue, trying cocaine and ultimately, date raping Gigi Boudakian. The underage drinking and recreational drug use is handled fairly cavalierly up until the stint with cocaine, but readers will still feel uneasy as the well-crafted sequence of Keir's reckless behaviors crescendos toward a disastrous end. Keir's self-delusion, irresponsibility and sense of invincibility are dangerous, sending the important message to all teens, particularly high-school heroes and their would-be victims, that some things are inexcusable. (Fiction. YA) Copyright Kirkus 2005 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection - June/July 2006
Keir knows he could not have raped Gigi. He believes that once Gigi understands that he is a good guy, she will see that it is impossible for him to have done something so inexcusable. Thus begins Keir's account of events that occurred during his senior year. As he tells his side of things, Keir appears to be less than honest, even to himself. Although he swears that every bad involvement was not his fault, a pattern emerges to create doubt that Keir understands reality. As the crucial evening spirals out of control, Keir crosses the line because he feels that the people he loves have let him down. When he sees himself as Gigi sees him, Keir accepts that he has raped her and must face the consequences. This is a powerful story of teen self-absorption leading to criminal behavior. As Keir recounts the events, which should prove he is a good person, there is a darker side that casts doubt on Keir's innocence. The writing is brilliant. Although the subject matter is distasteful, Chris Lynch has made Keir a likable character. The reader, for as long as possible, wants to give Keir the benefit of the doubt. This is an important book that should be read and discussed by all teens. Highly Recommended. Charlotte Decker, Librarian, Children's Learning Center, Public Library of Cincinnati (Ohio) and Hamilton County Â© 2006 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2005 October #3
High school senior Keir Sarafian may remind Lynch fans of Earl Pryor, the narrator of Who the Man . Though more intelligent than Earl, Keir is also an unreliable narrator, whose reporting belies to readers the unintended results of his ungainly strength and impulsive actions. As the novel opens, something horrible has happened: "The way it looks is not the way it is. Gigi Boudakian is screaming at me so fearsomely." Intervening chapters in flashback trace how Keir and Gigi, who were childhood friends, arrived at this moment, which readers soon gather is a date rape from Gigi's perspective, and a natural progression of shared intimacy from Keir's viewpoint. Lynch plunges readers into Keir's psyche in a way that makes him almost sympathetic, if frightening. On the football field earlier in the school year, Keir tackled a receiver and crippled him, but in his mind, he was only doing what he was trained to do (the opponents "were getting too comfortable. Too lazy, spoiled, entitled.... It is inexcusable"). Later in the novel, when he learns that his older sisters (he "talks about [them]... like [they were] angels") simply boycotted his graduation (not absent due to exams, as they had said), his world crumbles. With his portrait of Keir, Lynch makes it nearly impossible for readers to see the world in black-and-white terms. This book is guaranteed to prompt heated discussion. Ages 13-up. (Nov.)[Page 69]. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Gr 9 Up -Keir is a senior who fancies himself a "lovable rogue." So do his widowed father, his older sisters, and his classmates. He likes being liked; he just doesn't do well with involvement . Keir would never do anything to hurt anyone intentionally-or would he? When he tackles and cripples a member of an opposing football team, it's determined to be an "accident"-one that earns him the good-humored nickname, "Killer." When he and his buddies destroy a town statue, they consider it a high-spirited, funny prank. When he gets drunk, the alcohol abuse is dismissed as "silly, harmless drinks," and drugs at parties are "strictly recreational." And when he date rapes the girl he thinks he loves, at first he convinces himself that "the way it looks is not the way it is." Keir's first-person narrative chillingly exposes the rationalization process that the troubled teen goes through to persuade himself and those around him of his innocence. Characters are clearly developed through immediately post-rape chapters that alternate with flashbacks of Keir's experiences and perceptions leading up to that point. As compelling as Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak (Farrar, 1999), though with a different point of view, this finely crafted and thought-provoking page-turner carefully conveys that it is simply inexcusable to whitewash wrongs, and that those responsible should (and hopefully will) pay the price.-Diane P. Tuccillo, City of Mesa Library, AZ[Page 140]. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.