2005

Inexcusable

By Chris Lynch

Current & Digital Publisher: Atheneum (Simon & Schuster)

Reading Level: Ages 14 & Up

Carrie Arcos writes:

Reading Inexcusable by Chris Lynch is like getting that constant buzzing in the back of your brain telling you that something isn’t right. Along with the buzzing comes a slow wave of nausea that peaks in the very end because you know this is where it’s been heading all along and because you’ve probably known a guy like Keir in your life.

Inexcusable is a character study of a male teenager’s inability to reconcile his true self with the one he creates in his head, ultimately resulting in a date rape. The book begins in the aftermath of the rape, though the reader isn’t exactly sure what has happened; we just know it’s something bad. In the course of the novel, Keir desperately tries to convince the reader that he is the actual victim of the story, not Gigi, the girl. How does he do this? By explaining that he really is a “good guy.”

Keir’s self portrait is one of a happy and loving seventeen-year-old. He has so much love for everyone around him. He loves his dad—a widower who gives everything for his children, his sisters who share a close relationship with their kid brother, his teammates, his friends at school, Gigi, the love of his life. But as the flashbacks unfold, there are holes in his story, small details that don’t match up, and since it’s told from Keir’s first-person perspective, we’re given a more enhanced version of the possible truth through his interactions with others. Once the seeds of doubt are planted, you can’t go back. You see Keir for who he really is. This is where the novel becomes brilliant.

His regular admission of his goodness provides him with the ability to judge everyone else. He is just trying to do the good thing. He is a good person. Why can’t anyone see that? Because he is so delusional, you get the feeling you’re trapped in the mind of a psychopath. He cannot accept the fact that he hurts people—the kid in the football game, the soccer players, his sisters, and finally Gigi, because a good person would never do that kind of a thing.

Keir is not a good person, but neither is anyone in the story. The dad drinks too much and lets Keir drink. The sisters lie. The fellow teammates engage in drinking, drugs, and hazing. Even Gigi isn’t painted as all that great.

The layers of Keir's lack of self-awareness become even more complicated with his rationalization of certain violent and ugly events in his life leading up to the rape: “You can look at a thing and at the time it will look funny, if conditions are right. In the mean light of day an event from the night before might look plain nasty, but that does not automatically render it nasty, in its context. Even if I might partway agree with you about the nastiness in the light, that still doesn't mean that at its original time the thing itself couldn't have been a very different, better thing." It is his justification that is the most disturbing, that admission that in the moment it all could “have been a very different, better thing.” It’s an admission that all of us can relate to when not wanting to face our wrongs or our lack of character in any given moment.

Keir’s refusal to see things as they really are is troubling. Is it a coping mechanism? Is he really a person in a great deal of pain, trying to escape a family life that is less than ideal? Is he really isolated and lonely so he has to tell himself another story to feel love and acceptance?

The physical violence is also unsettling, along with his being incapable of reconciling his violent acts with personal responsibility. He is just being one of the “guys,” performing these rites of passage on the way to manhood.

The novel is raw, powerful, and heartbreaking. In the end, there’s almost a sense of relief in the waiting for whatever comes through the door that some kind of self-awareness is manifesting in Keir. But there’s also a touch of empathy. After all, no one likes to see a good guy fall.

Carrie Arcos earned an MA in creative writing and English literature and writes young adult fiction. Out of Reach is her debut novel and was a Finalist for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature in 2012. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children. Her next book will be published summer 2014. You can find her at www.carriearcos.com or on Twitter @carriearcos.

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YPL Finalists That Year:

  • Adele Griffin for Where I Want to Be
  • Chris Lynch for Inexcusable
  • Walter Dean Myers for Autobiography of My Dead Brother
  • Deborah Wiles for Each Little Bird That Sings

YPL Winner That Year: Jeanne Birdsall for The Penderwicks

Judges That Year: Mari Evans, Claudia Mills, Jim Murphy, Liz Rosenberg, Rita Williams-Garcia

The Year in Literature: Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata won the Newbery Medal. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff won the Printz Award.

More Information:  Chris Lynch’s five all-time favorite books are: Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion, Stay Here with Me by Robert Olmstead, The Sportswriter by Richard Ford, Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos, and National Book Award Fiction Winner The Moviegoer by Walker Percy.

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