Inexcusable by Chris Lynch

“Sometimes you get caught.  Caught up in moments, in the whirlwind of events.  Caught unawares.  It’s just not you but wrong place, wrong time, wrong company can really easily add up to giving people the wrong idea about yourself.  And yet again the way things look drift away from the way things really are.”

Kier is a high school senior, a football player, and what he liked to consider as a “good boy”.  But he’s done something terribly, awfully wrong-something that can’t be undone.  He raped a friend.  He committed date rape on the night of his graduation.

In this short, tense book, Kier sets out to reconcile what he thought of himself-just a good kid, a polite guy, maybe sometimes drinks a little too much, but nothing serious-with what has actually happened.  He might have mixed drugs and alcohol.  He might have followed the example of his father, who’s been drinking since Kier’s mom died.  He might even be spoiled, as one of his sisters says.  However, blaming his actions on drinking and friends is too simplistic, and that’s just what this book explores.  There are even other contributing factors: Kier has rarely heard the word “no” before.  He was emotionally distressed at the time.  He had been able to rationalize previous misbehaviors as “just playing around”. But the title says it all-it’s inexcusable.

Kier’s reasoning is unnerving; the intimate view of his thoughts reveals just how easy it is to believe a story you tell yourself, especially when the truth has the potential to ruin your life.  For almost the entirety of the book, he insists he hasn’t done anything wrong.  While he’s denying everything, he tells us the story. The effect of his self-deception is chilling.

A review on the inside cover of the text suggests reading this book as a companion piece to Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, a story of rape from a young woman’s perspective.  I think it would be a very good pairing for a high school classroom.  Definitely not fun, but an important topic to address.  Both books force readers to think, rather than automatically categorize actions as either good or bad.  Lynch demonstrates that someone with only the best of motives can still do irreparable harm.  “Furthermore, both books are highly-regarded award-winners; Inexcusable was a National Book Award finalist, as well as an ALA “Best Book”.

Happy Reading!

Lynch, Chris. Inexcusable. Simon & Schuster: New York, 2005. 165 pp.

If you’d like to read another book like this, try Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak.  For books about teens who’ve committed grave errors and are now ruminating about them, try Monster by Walter Dean Myers, or After by Amy Efaw.

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Identical by Ellen Hopkins

“At ten it isn’t exactly

easy to separate

good touch

from bad

touch,

proper

love from

improper love,

doting daddy from perv.”

Kaeleigh and Raeanne are identical twins: beautiful, wealthy, well-dressed, living in a large house in a prestigious area.  Their father is a respected judge, and their mother is on her way to winning a seat in the Senate. Of course, (remember, this is an Ellen Hopkins book), nothing is as nice as it appears.  After a devastating accident when the twins were young, their father begins drinking, abusing prescription medication, and sexually abusing Kaeleigh.  Their mother spends more and more time on the campaign trail, feigning ignorance of the situation at home.  The girls try to compensate for the devastation in the family in various ways: Raeanne sleeps with guys to get drugs, using sex, drugs, and alcohol to medicate herself.  Kaeleigh binges and forces herself to vomit, and cuts herself in the shower.  Both girls despair of ever being whole again.

I can’t say much more, because I don’t want to give anything away.  The ending is surprising, and felt slightly contrived, but after problems with the scope and nature of Raeanne’s and Kaeleigh’s, that is understandable.   It’s hard to resolve such trauma in the space of a single story, and I don’t feel like the ending will be objectionable to younger readers.  Furthermore, I think Hopkins handles the emotional fallout of sexual abuse in a very realistic way, which makes up for the ending.

 This is a novel in unrhymed verse, and many of the poems are shaped to look like hearts, letters, and other designs.  However, it still reads quickly, and the arrangement doesn’t interfere with ease-of-reading.  That said, the topics do.  This book was so disturbing that I was compelled to finish it in the space of seven tense hours.  I just wanted to get through it, so that I could be free of it.  Compelling isn’t the half of it: once I started, I had to finish.

I know that Ellen Hopkins is a wildly popular author, and readers are constantly clamoring for more, and any book that makes young people want to read is a winner with me.  Yes, please! If you love books about tough stuff, this one may be for you.  Hopkins is undeniably a skilled writer, and her novels fill an important space in the YA lit world.  When we refuse to address certain topics, it creates a shroud of shame around them, which is why I applaud authors who don’t shy away from tricky subjects.  However, I would recommend this book only to very mature readers, due to the graphic content.  We’re talking incest, drugs, bulimia, self-injury, BDSM, alcoholism, and date rape.  This isn’t for the faint-hearted.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.ellenhopkins.com (Right now, it’s currently under construction, but you can look her up on Facebook, if you want!)

Hopkins, Ellen. Identical. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008. 565 pp. Ages 16 (a mature 16) and up.