Friday, December 08, 2006


Inexcusable by Chris Lynch.

The Plot: Keir is a good kid. So he has no idea how he got in this position; basically, a girl accusing him of rape. Rape! Keir know that is inexcusable, something he would never, ever do.

The Good:
Sorry, this must be done with spoilers. So if you don't want them, go elsewhere. This is one of my reviews that meanders more into a discussion of the book, spoilers and all.

La, la, la. Spoilers, and I mean it!

Am I giving you enough warning?

This is not "a boy unfairly accused book," except in Keir's own warped version of how the the world works and his place in the world. (And sadly many people buy what Keir is selling.)

In Keir, Lynch has captured a true criminal: "It's not me" "It's not my fault" to the point where some readers may be shocked when they realize that Keir is not innocent. And that point, it suddenly clicks that Keir hasn't been honest about what happened with the football team, and the soccer players, and a few other things. Other readers may realize all along that Keir is unreliable, knowingly and unknowingly.

Oh, another thing I like? While Keir has issues (more below), he doesn't have self-esteem issues. He is full of esteem. Having Keir feel better about himself; the last thing he needs. What Keir needs is to start taking responsibility for his actions and feeling bad about the things he has done.

Part of the reason Keir is always convinced that he never does anything wrong; is he always has a story: it's other kids, it's the circumstances, it's things got out of hand, it's her fault, it's never, ever his fault. As you read, ask yourself: and what point did you know Keir was just giving you excuses? Avoiding responsibility?

Keir's scares the hell out of me; because he is so sure he is never wrong, so able to convince others of his innocence.

I admire Lynch because he doesn't excuse Keir's behavior with "whys", it just "is." I'm a bit tired of books that give excuses for abusive behavior, including sexual assault; so it's refreshing that, even tho yes, Keir's Daddy is a functioning drunk, and Keir drinks and does drugs, that the book never makes Keir's actions excusable.

It's also interesting to see how twisted Keir is; what does he think love is?

I like how the truths of Keir's life, including the truth about his relationship with his father and his sisters, come clear to the reader, yet never to Keir. Keir does not grow or change or realize he did anything wrong; rather, the reader learns, learns how to recognize a manipulative liar.

Here's Keir on control: They could see my car, see my power, see my cool, while I could stay in shadow. Sweet.

I have never cared less for a main character, yet at the same time liked a book. This is a chilling portrait of a criminal who may never be locked up; the reader sees him without his excuses, and knows what he is, but Keir never realizes it.


Anonymous said...

I'm planning to use this book not just in my MLIS class, but also in a first-day-of-class exercise in which we'll be reading the first paragraphs of a variety of YA books to start getting thinking about whole concept of YA literature. When I pretested this activity, one of my pretesters was absolutely certain that Keir had been falsely accused. I don't think it occured to her to realize that a narrator - yeah, that person who we immediately identify with from word one - could be the "bad guy". (hmm, like any Agatha Christie book that we know?)

I realized early on that Keir's perceptions of the football party, etc were off (I'd been warned that Keir was an unreliable narrator), but it took me until his sisters actually said so to realize that his way of seeing his family was all off, too.

The ideas surrounding this book could start a dozen different discussions. A novel told from the point of view of a rapist? That's boundary-breaking, in both form and content. The idea that, as Keir tells us repeatedly, "the way it looks is not the way it is"? There's ideas about framing here that echo what media people talk about when they say that cameras only show you what the camera-holder sees. The idea that right and wrong are decided by outside sources (like the football player who writes Keir that note)? Huge discussions about ethics can come out this one.

Liz B said...

Jill, what scares me (and why I like this book) is it seems (to me, at least) to firmly establish at the end of the book that Keir is guilty; and I'd hope that those who were "taken in" by his didn't do/ things got out of hand/ I don't remember it/ other people are wrong excuses wake up & realize that there are real life Keirs who are just as manipulative.

This is also one of the best examples of an unreliable narrator I've seen in a long time, and that alone gives it value.

I also think that because it's actually very light on details, it could be used in a school setting. I'm eager to see how this works in class, do report back!

Anonymous said...

Your second point here was actually the challenge (in an academic sense, not a book-banning one) I got when I was chatting about this book at a departmental event recently. The challenge was that because, in Scott Westerfeld's words, it's a "bring your own revulsion" book (he's talking about Gossip Girl, but I think it's equally applicable here), if a reader doesn't bring their own revulsion, they could come to the conclusion that there's no problem here.

Which I do agree is possible, but I think readers are smarter than that. We're totally confident, for example, that Margo Lanagan's "Sweet Pippit" (in Black Juice) is about elephants, but nowhere in the story does she actually say so. A missing moral point is more subtle than a missing word, but I think there's another detail here, outside the story, that balances the pro-Keir case. Maybe we're willing to distrust the narrator, but it would take even more than that to distrust the author, the publisher, etc. The title of the book is "Inexcusable", and the cover art has a picture of a bra. The para-story is telling us that something inexcusable is going on here, even if Keir isn't.

I think I can use as many, ah, details as I want in my class of adults, but the question'll be what they choose to do with the book if they then take it to high schools.

Liz B said...

I like that "bring your own revulsion" think -- and it can be tricky! I think there is enough in Inexcusable (the title, the people who confront Keir at the end, including the girl) that I would argue that there is enough Proof within the text to reach the point.

The book I worry about is Friction by Frank. I bring my own revulsion because I see a teacher who is Wrong in his interactions with students; yet I read the text to say that students are Wrong to say the teacher is Wrong, and I'm afraid that young readers would not conclude "this is a person who is inappropriate with his students" but rather "the teacher did nothing wrong, the students were wrong to suspect."