Synopses & Reviews
"This is a riveting yet horrifying tale. Lefkowitz has exposed the substrata of evil in a seemingly idyllic town, and he has done it in a way that makes for compulsive reading. Most troubling of all, you come away with the realization that what happened in Glen Ridge could happen anywhere". -- Jonathan Harr, author of A Civil Action
In March 1989, a group of teenaged boys lured a retarded girl into a basement in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, where four of them raped her while others watched. Glen Ridge was the kind of peaceful, affluent suburb many Americans dream about. The rapists were its most popular high school athletes. And although rumors of the crime quickly, spread through the town, weeks passed before anyone saw fit to report it to the police.
What made these boys capable of brutalizing a girl that some of them had known since childhood? Why did so many of their elders -- including parents and educators -- deny the rape and rally around its perpetrators? Drawing on years of research and hundreds of interviews, Bernard Lefkowitz examines the characters of the defendants, their victim, and their families, friends, and teachers. He reconstructs the reluctant police investigation and the long, ugly trial at which a handicapped girl was depicted as a wily seductress. Our Guys is not only a hair-raising true crime story but a hauntingly nuanced portrait of our society's cult of the jock and its culture of unrestrained adolescent sexuality.
"Heartbreaking...a brave and unequivocating book, as important as Susan Brownmiller's Against Our Will". -- Newsday
"An important book, a valuable record of how parents, teachers and coaches collude in creating All-American monsters". --Washington Post Book World
"Gripping.... I have never found a book faultless until now. All the elements of narrative, structure and analysis come together so seamlessly that...I couldn't put it down". -- Leora Tanenbaum, Women's Review of Books
"Remarkable... A crime story brilliantly rendered". -- The Weekly Standard
"Our Guys is more than a tragedy about lost youth. It is a tale about the failure of adults who thought they had given their children everything -- but had somehow forgotten to impart the most basic values of civility and respect". -- Philadelphia Inquirer
In March 1989 a group of teenage boys lured a retarded girl into a basement in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, and gang-raped her. Glen Ridge was the kind of peaceful, affluent suburb many Americans dream about. The rapists were its most popular high school athletes. And although rumors of the crime quickly spread through the town, weeks passed before anyone saw fit to report it to the police. What made these boys capable of brutalizing a girl that some of them had known since childhood? Why did so many of their elders deny the rape and rally around its perpetrators? To solve this riddle, the Edgar award-winning author Bernard Lefkowitz conducted years of research and more than two hundred interviews. The result is not just a wrenching story of crime and punishment, but a hauntingly nuanced portrait of America's jock culture and the hidden world of unrestrained adolescent sexuality.
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
A Los Angeles Times Prize Finalist
An Edgar Finalist
In 1989 a group of teenaged boys lured a retarded girl into a basement in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, where four of them raped her while the others watched. In this gripping book, Lefkowitz examines the characters of these boys, reconstructs the reluctant police investigation, and delves into the reasons why these boys from an affluent neighborhood could behave in this way. Photos.
About the Author
Bernard Lefkowitz, an Edgar award-winning author, has written three earlier books on social issues, including Tough Change: Growing Up on Your Own in America. He teaches journalism at Columbia University, and lives in Brooklyn, New York. His articles have appeared in Esquire, Newsweek, The New York Times Magazine, New York, Psychology Today, Ladies' Home Journal, The Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, and The Los Angeles Times.
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and suggested reading list that follow are intended
to enhance your group's experience of reading Bernard Lefkowitz's Our Guys
. We hope
they will provide you with a number of interesting angles from which to approach this
harrowing and deeply revealing story of the violent undercurrents that exist within a
"perfect" American suburb.
1. One review of Our Guys described the priorities of the community of Glen Ridge as "large, protected homes, easy access to an endless array of consumer goods, and team sports, with education far down the line, except as a means of obtaining the first three" (New York Times Book Review). Is this a fair assessment?
2. How do the jocks classify the girls in their high school class, and what, if anything, do these classifications tell us about the roles of girls and women in this community? Why do the girls put up with the treatment the jocks hand out, even agreeing to call themselves "pigs" to gain admission to jock parties [p. 203]?
3. "The ruling clique of teenagers adhered to a code of behavior that mimicked, distorted and exaggerated the values of the adult world around them" [p. 493]. Does this square with what you have read about the parents of the perpetrators? Does it conform with what you read about the teachers, coaches, and others whose job it is to deal with the youth of Glen Ridge? How does this compare with what is going on in your own community?
4. Lefkowitz believes that the social hierarchy and the social conditioning in Glen Ridge reflects the larger American culture. Do you agree with him? How do the society and the values of Glen Ridge resemble, or differ from, other communities and schools with which you are familiar? Do you agree with Lefkowitz's implication that ours is an essentially unequal culture, where males get more breaks than women do?
5. "Of all the boys charged with sexually assaulting Leslie Faber, only Bryant Grober had sisters. The others grew up in families where males were the dominant personalities" [p. 68]. Also, Lefkowitz notes, there were no women in high positions in Glen Ridge High School. What effect might the lack of association between boys and girls have had upon these boys? Do you believe that it is the school's responsibility to ensure that more women have important, responsible, and visible positions within its hierarchy?
6. "Achievement was honored and respected almost to the point of pathology," said the minister of Glen Ridge Congregational Church, "whether it was the achievements of high school athletes or the achievements of corporate world conquerors" [p. 130]. "Compassion for the weak," adds Lefkowitz, "wasn't part of the curriculum." Are these traits--the worship of success and a lack of concern for the weak--characteristic of our culture as a whole? Are our major institutions, like the educational system and the press, making any attempt to counterbalance such ideas?
7. In Chapter 16, why did the kids get away with trashing Mary Ryan's house? Why was no legal action taken by the Ryans? Do you think that this sort of incident occurs, and gets covered up, in other towns or cities? What would have happened to these boys if they had been less affluent--or if they had not been white?
8. According to a national survey in 1993, 81 percent of female public school students said they had been sexually harassed in school; only 7 percent of those harassed told a teacher about it [p. 92]. Why do you think so few girls inform their teachers? Are they afraid of retaliation or of publicity? Do you believe that such fears are justified? What effect might the experiences of Leslie Faber or that of the Central Park jogger (whose story was in the news for months) at the hands of lawyers and media have on a woman who is wondering whether to report a rape?
9. "The guys prized their intimacy with each other far above what could be achieved with a girl" [p. 146]. What does sex represent for the boys in this jock culture? Why is it a passive experience--something "done to them, not something they actively participated in" [p. 148]? Do you think that Querques's tactics in painting Leslie as a sluttish Lolita were legitimate--that he was simply doing the best he could to acquit his clients? Or do you find his behavior despicable? Why is it legally acceptable to make the sexual history of the victim public but not to reveal that of the suspect? How might the legal system try rape suspects without putting the victim on trial too?
10. In what ways do you feel that Glen Ridge High School failed its students--both the jocks, who were growing increasingly delinquent, and their victims? How did it fail the other students: the "Giggers," for example, and those who were, or might have been, genuinely interested in their academic subjects? Do you see the schools in your community behaving similarly?
11. Do you agree with the final decision of the jury? That is, "was what the boys did a crime--or was it just a crummy thing to do" [p. 35]? What is your reaction to the judge's sentencing of the boys? What messages did the verdict and the sentencing convey to the boys, the town of Glen Ridge, and to those who took an interest in this case?
12. Are all young males aggressive, potentially dangerous, when they are part of a group? Are athletes, by nature or training, violent and dangerous?
13. Bernard Lefkowitz has said, "I think that when we try to respond to men who commit crimes when they're in their twenties and thirties, we're way too late. Their values have been shaped when they were twelve,thirteen, and fourteen years old" (Salon magazine, August 1997). If this is the case, what might we do as a society to change the values these boys are acquiring? How might such change be effected?
14. One of the questions posed by this book is: "Is it worth ruining so many lives to punish guys who got carried away for an hour?" [p. 284]. What is your own answer? If it is "no," do you believe that such leniency should apply in all similar cases?
15. Lefkowitz implies that there are two justice systems in America: one for the affluent, and one for everyone else. Does this seem a fair assessment of the situation? What other prominent legal cases in recent years might illustrate your point?