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.