The Book I DNFed: IRREVERSIBLE by Chris Lynch
Today I want to talk with you about IRREVERSIBLE by Chris Lynch. I am currently 50% done reading this book and I am going to do something that I have seldom done before and not only DNF this book but discuss with you why I am choosing to do so. As a librarian and a professional book reviewer, I am actually very uncomfortable with DNFing a book. I am even more uncomfortable with talking about a book that I have chosen to DNF. I have traditionally been a huge proponent of you can’t judge a book that you haven’t fully read, that is also probably true of this book. And yet, here I am wrestling with what to do about this book.
Before we begin, let’s discuss the controversy surrounding this book. This is the companion book to INEXCUSABLE by Chris Lynch. In Inexcusable, we meet Keir on the morning after he has raped a girl named Gigi. The story then is told in flashbacks as Keir tries to convince us that he is a “good guy” and that what she says has happened can’t be what really happened. Keir is an unreliable narrator, meaning that you can’t trust his perspective. Inexcusable is an award winning book that I feel does a really good job of making it’s point and asking readers to think about the topic of consent. In fact, I spoke with Chris Lynch about this book as part of the #SVYALit Project.
Ten years later, Lynch has written this follow up book, IRREVERSIBLE, which many people have already claimed they will not read or cover based on the book description. See, for example, We Will Not Cover Irreversible by YA Interrobang.
Here is the publisher’s book description:
The accused date rapist from the “finely crafted and thought-provoking” (School Library Journal) National Book Award Finalist, Inexcusable, must confront the kind of person he really is and come to terms with his past actions, in this stunning sequel from Printz Honor–winning author Chris Lynch.
Keir Sarafian insists he did nothing wrong. But no one will believe that he’s the good guy he knows he is—no one except his father, Ray. And Ray is just the person Keir has to leave in order to have the fresh start he deserves.
Now at Carnegie College, Keir’s life isn’t what he thought it would be. Two soccer players are poised to take his spot as kicker. Ray keeps calling, and Joyce, his guiding light on campus, seems to be avoiding him. When tragedy strikes, will Keir finally be able to confront his past actions and realize his potential?
What the Reviews are Saying:
As an unreliable narrator with a disturbing sense of entitlement and lack of self-awareness, Keir will have readers dying for justice or radical growth. But his shift in perspective is too little and comes too late. Those who found the previous chapter of Keir’s story fascinating will find little new territory to explore here.
An exhausting run with a protagonist seemingly incapable of growth. (Source: Kirkus)
Keir’s growth is minimal, and many plot devices, including the death of someone close to Keir, are jarring and forced. With little character growth and a meandering plot, this sequel misfires. (Source: Publisher’s Weekly)
And yes, the description is a huge red flag, particularly the way it ends: When tragedy strikes, will Keir finally be able to confront his past actions and realize his potential? We are dealing here with a young man that has just committed rape, who fails to acknowledge or atone for the fact that he has committed rape, and you want me to be invested in whether or not this young man “realizes his potential”? I have a hard time with this concept. Whatever potential he may have had, he threw it away when he sexually assaulted another human being. I am tired of us, the universal us here, worrying about the impact of rape on rapists and not enough time worrying about the impact of rape on its victims. We do that enough. That’s what we are doing when we worry about how the conviction of rape will ruin the football and college careers of the rapists in Steubenville and not how it will affect the girl he raped. That’s what we are doing when we suggest that the fact that Brock Turner has real skill as a swimmer is more important then the fact that he raped an unconscious girl behind a dumpster, an act he was caught in by witnesses. That’s what this judge was doing when she wondered whether or not a convicted rapist could be rehabilitated and sentenced him to no jail time. We spend too much time worrying about whether or not rapists can fulfill their potential and not enough time worrying about the effects of rape on girls who have been raped. Why are our rape statistics so high? Maybe it’s because there are still too little consequences for raping.
My Thoughts (with Spoilers!)
I am half way through this book and I hate it. With every fiber of my being. An intense, searing, burning hate that burns like the setting sun that seems to be setting the surrounding trees on fire. Let me tell you why. Please note, there will be spoilers. Sorry, but I can’t discuss this title without them and I feel like it is a title that warrants discussion. Proceed at your own risk.
IRREVERSIBLE opens right after Gigi has left. Carl immediately comes into the room where Keir is still trying to tell himself that he has not in fact raped Gigi and that this is just a misunderstanding that will soon be sorted out and beats the snot out of Keir. Keir is then picked up and taken home where he is recuperating from his physical injuries, which are substantial. His father is protecting him from many things, including the fact that every day people leave protest notes and “gifts” outside their house. There are hints that both of them have some basic understanding that everything is bad and wrong, but the two continue to live in extreme denial. It’s maddening to read, especially since this book is written from Keir’s perspective and he continually wants you to feel sorry for him. I hated spending time in his head and, more importantly, I felt that the attempt to humanize and breed sympathy for this character is contemptible. So much of the focus after a rape is on how the perpetrators of rape suffer – remember how the press lamented how the Steubenville rapist’s lives were now ruined – that this is not in any way helpful to the world wide discourse we are currently trying to have about sexual violence. I’m sure that being a rapist does have a lot of affects on the people who commit rape, I do not care. Whatever those effects may be, they made a decision that will have life long consequences for another human being and it is the effects of that crime on those people that we should focus on. I’m tired of victim blaming and I’m tired of rapist sympathizing.
I am halfway through this book and we have met 4 female characters. The first two are Kier’s sister, both of whom flat out tell him that he is not welcome at Norfolk university, not just by them but by their fellow students. If you read the first book you will recall that this is where Keir raped Gigi. Mary, in particular, makes a point of reminding their sister that if the accused was anyone other then their brother, they would 100% be supporting the female. Mary I liked; Mary spoke a truth that needed to be spoken in a way that was clear and on message.
However, Keir then leaves to go to a different college across the map hoping that he can run from his troubles and start his life over. It is here that we encounter the first female that Keir is not related to, and there is so much wrong with everything that happens here. First, it is very clear that she is a young (possibly teenage) mother who is in an abusive relationship. So now in this world we know 4 women, one of whom is kind of supporting her brother an accused rapist, one of whom is the victim of rape, and this young woman who is a cliche in every way. It gets worse. She has two kids with her, one of whom takes Keir’s seat on the bus. When he protests, the mother is dismissive in ways that would not really be socially acceptable. And when he complains that her kids are eating his food, she not only doesn’t care but calls him a crybaby. It’s hard to believe not only that she would act the way that she does, but that nobody on the bus would call her out for her behavior which, again, is completely socially unacceptable. And just when you think, well at least she’s confident and standing up to a man, she is picked up at the bus terminal by a man who is clearly controlling her. Keir tries to tell her that this man is a “bad man” – rich irony coming from this character – but she begs him please just to leave. The problem is, of course, that Keir is an unreliable narrator, so it’s not clear what parts of this interaction are more true than others. But this is the first woman we have spent actual time with in this story and this is the interactions that we get. Many people will understand the subtleties of reading a book from the point of view of an unreliable narrator, but many won’t and this story line leaves me filled with concern and contempt for the way it feeds into many of the cliches and stereotypes that I hear men’s rights activists expressing about women and I’m not sure that the author successfully writes this part of the story nor do I feel it was a necessary part of the story.
Keir then finally arrives at college and is in basic training. There he meets his teammates, which we don’t learn a lot about at this point. He also meets the fourth female, a campus tour guide that seems at times to be fearful and repulsed by Keir – she refers to him as a “charmer” in a way that makes it clear that she knows his type and won’t fall for any of his bullshit, but then she agrees to meet him for a private tour where she takes him by the hand and takes him to her most favorite and secluded spot on campus. Again, unreliable narrator, but again thanks for depicting women as wishy-washy stereotypes who don’t know what they want and come across as teases. This is 100% not helpful in the discussion of sexual violence.
But here’s the deal, I am reading this book with the full knowledge that Keir is an unreliable narrator and that if history serves based on my reading of Inexcusable, then Lynch might successfully flip the script and make it clear by the end that all of these things were not truth and Keir is in fact a complete insert expletive of your choice here. If that happens, that means that readers would 1) have to finish the entire book to experience this catharsis and 2) be a sophisticated reader who can go beyond any initial biases or preconceived notions to reach this conclusion, and 3) be familiar with the idea of an unreliable narrator and how it works in order to reach the proper conclusions about rape, consent, sexual violence, women and Keir. This is a lot to ask of readers given such an important topic; that’s too many ifs that need to happen to make this book successful.
I have never wanted to DNF a book so badly in my life. Reading this book is equal parts depressing, discouraging and enraging. Some readers may still be giving Lynch the benefit of the doubt because he was successful with INEXCUSABLE, I am not that reader and this is a personal choice I have chosen to make. This book reads as rape apology and I do not want to finish it and I do not recommend it. It is harmful to victims and it is harmful to our intent to discuss consent and healthy sexual relationships with teens. I feel it is unfortunate that Lynch didn’t understand what he had accomplished with INEXCUSABLE and leave it at that.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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