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Book Review: Inexcusable by Chris Lynch

As part of the #SVYALit Project I’m trying to read as many titles as possible in order to work with Christa Desir, Carrie Mesrobian and Trish Doller to put together an annotated bibliography/index of titles that highlight the wide range of issues involved in this discussion. And truth be told, so many people kept telling me to make sure that I read Inexcusable by Chris Lynch. So I did.

Let me start this discussion by saying this: WOW. This book is truly amazing.

So let’s talk about it. Please note, since this is an older title I’m not writing strictly a review but more of a discussion post so if you haven’t read it yet be forewarned THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.

Publisher’s Description:

“I am a good guy. Good guys don’t do bad things. Good guys understand that no means no, and so I could not have done this because I understand.”

Keir Sarafian knows many things about himself. He is a talented football player, a loyal friend, a devoted son and brother. Most of all, he is a good guy.

And yet the love of his life thinks otherwise. Gigi says Keir has done something awful. Something unforgivable.

Keir doesn’t understand. He loves Gigi. He would never do anything to hurt her. So Keir carefully recounts the events leading up to that one fateful night, in order to uncover the truth. Clearly, there has been a mistake.

But what has happened is, indeed, something inexcusable.”

Karen’s Thoughts:

Inexcusable is a master class in the unreliable narrator. An unreliable narrator is a narrator who quite literally can’t be trusted. He, or she as the case may be, is narrating the story being told and slowly you learn that not all is as the narrator makes it appear to be.

In this case our narrator is Keir, who assures us time and time again he is a “good guy.”  He comes from a good family and he is very close with the various members. Slowly, the layers of our story are peeled back and we begin to have our doubts about Keir. The pacing of Inexcusable is pitch perfect and amazing.

When we first meet Keir he is in a room with a girl who is hinting that something bad happened. But Keir assures us that it wasn’t what she thinks it was because he loves her. Then he goes on to tell us all about himself to convince us all that he is a good guy incapable of doing the things that she is saying. But really, he is trying to convince himself.

I am so sorry.
“What are you sorry for, Keir?” Gigi screams again, grabbing me by where my lapels would be if I had a jacket on, or a shirt, or anything. She can’t get a purchase because I have no clothes, and very little fat, because I have been good about my health lately. She grabs, can’t grab, scratches instead at my chest, then slaps me hard across the face, first right side then left, smack, smack.
“Say what you did, Keir.”
“Why is Carl coming? Why do you have to call Carl, Gigi?”
“Say what you did, Keir. Admit what you did to me.”
“I didn’t do anything, Gigi.”
“Yes you did! I said no!”
I say this very firmly. “You did not.” –
from Inexcusable by Chris Lynch

In addition to being a brilliant example of the unreliable narrator, Inexcusable is a really good book to use to get teens discussing the idea of consent. I believe a large number of guys never go out with a girl with the intention of raping their dates. And afterwards, many of them still fail to understand how a girl can call it rape for a variety of reasons; like Keir who thinks it can’t be rape because they genuinely love the girl they are with. But if I love her, they think, how can it be rape?

Inexcusable is told in two timelines. In one, we get the background story from Keir about who he is. He is building his case and helping us understand just what a good guy he is. This storyline builds up until the night in question. In the other, we are witnessing the scene of the morning after. In this scene, Keir is basically holding Gigi hostage in a room while he tries to convince her (and us and himself) that no, no, no, it can’t be rape. He literally won’t let her leave the room, demonstrating how quickly he is willing to take away her agency and try to control the situation to his favor. I would love to discuss this book with teen readers and find out what they think about even this aspect of the story.

Agency, Free Agency, Self Agency – these are terms that have really come to have significant meaning for me as I delve deeper into the issues of sexual violence and consent. Self Agency is the notion that each individual and that individual alone has the right to make decisions regarding their government of self, including how and when they consent to any type of sex or intimacy, including kissing. In order for us to recognize that any people – including women – can have the right to consent, we have to acknowledge their right to have complete self agency. And yes, this is something that we can find a wide variety of examples of ways in which our society does not grant this agency to others. As a Christian woman, I can cite for you tons of examples from my church and various Bible studies. But we can also find very clear examples in our day to day operations, as demonstrated in Inexcusable where Keir is very much trying to control Gigi and this situation in order to avoid her even being able to discuss with others what happened so that outsiders can determine whether or not she was violated. When we impose our will upon others, we take away their agency.

And it raises, for me, very interesting questions: If Keir is so easily able to force his will upon Gigi in this moment by holding her hostage to convince her to see recent events his way, then why should we believe that he would have such a difficult time forcing his will upon her in other events? This is one of the interesting concepts highlighted in Inexcusable. And I think this is a moment where we can use story to discuss bigger life issues with teen readers, issues like intent, responsibility, and yes, consent.

“I thought about mistakes I had made in the past. I thought about when things went wrong. And I realized it was never an issue of intent, but of intensity. I was a good guy, recall.” – from Inexcusable by Chris Lynch

Of course the most fascinating aspect of Inexcusable is in fact that realization that Keir is doing what all of us do on a daily basis: trying to balance the outward self with the inward self. There is who Keir wants to believe he is and what his life is, and then there is the reality. Keir’s situation is not unique, we all do this to some extent. Keir is really no different than any of us in this regard, he is just (hopefully) a more extreme, exaggerated example. And this is such a fascinatingly discussable concept.

We will be reading and discussing this title in August with a Tweet chat moderated by author Rachele Alpine. I think it will be a great discussion. And I look forward to hearing what everyone thinks about the ending.

If you have not read Inexcusable by Chris Lynch, I highly recommend you check it out. The Mr. read it after me and he thought it was “brilliant” and “interesting”. And it is. This title should really be taught in all classrooms.

What the Book Reviews Said:

Booklist 9/15/2005 says . “Through expertly drawn, subtle, every- guy details, Lynch creates a nuanced, wholly believable character that will leave many readers shaking with recognition: They know this guy, a strong athlete who fleetingly struggles with his self image, loves (and is disappointed by) his family, wants to have fun with his friends, and has a deep crush on a girl. His very familiarity, combined with his slippery morality, violent actions, and shocking self-denial, will prompt many readers to question themselves, and their own decisions and accepted ways of talking and behaving with each other. Teens may doubt Keir’s reliability as a narrator, but his self-recognition, in a final, searing scene, rings true. Here, and throughout this unforgettable novel, Lynch raises fierce, painful questions about athletic culture, family denial, violence, and rape, and readers will want to think and talk about them all. Where does personal responsibility begin? What defines a ‘good guy’? Are we all capable of monstrous things?”

VOYA Says “Lynch’s masterful exploration of the difference between perception and reality is fascinating. Teens will reread this short but complex story debating the issues of violence and responsibility. As Keir says, ‘it was never an issue of intent, but of intensity.'” – (Cindy Dobrez, VOYA 12/01/2005)

Simon & Schuster Discussion Guide for Inexcusable by Chris Lynch