"The way it looks is not the way it is," begins Lynch's bone-chilling new novel. It looks like a date rape, and in the novel's first scene, set just after the alleged crime, teen Gigi accuses narrator Keir, whose terrifying denial ("I am a good guy . . and so I could not have done this") sets the book's tone.
Many YA novels about rape, such as Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak (1999), have shown the horror and pain from the victim's perspective, but Lynch's daring story is told in the defensive voice of the accused rapist. In chapters that move between the rape scene and the past, Keir tries to convince readers of his own innocence and earn their trust: "I'm going to tell you the truth," he says early on. "You could ask pretty much anybody and they will tell you. Rock solid, Keir. Kind of guy you want behind you . . . Loyal, polite. Funny. Good manners. He was brought up right, that boy was."
Attempting to defend his character with anecdotes from his senior year of high school, Keir relates a string of disturbing, morally ambiguous stories in an energetic voice that's alternately playful, earnest, rational, and, as almost all readers will recognize, deluded. Many stories involve Keir's football team, including an on-field accident in which Keir cripples a receiver during a routine play and releases himself from blame. When Keir joins his teammates in violent year-end hazing and vandalism, and then watches a videotape of their actions, he struggles to reconcile the reality of himself and his friends as frightening aggressors with the "lovable rogues" he has imagined.
His rationalizations, his response to so many incidents, convince readers that they are listening to an unreliable narrator, a sense that only increases as the story progresses, returning frequently to the rape scene, and Gigi's furious and clear accusation: "You raped me." In one of the many remarks directed straight to readers, Keir says, "I'm lying. I said I wouldn't do that to you, but I am," which simultaneously undermines his credibility and draws him closer to his audience, creating an uncomfortable intimacy that Lynch masterfully balances throughout the novel.
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?