I have a boy in my novel named Ben, who is fourteen (and, yes, I know that's young), and he's grown up in Oklahoma with three strikes against him:
1. He's deaf.
2. He's a minority (mixed race).
3. He's a foster kid.
Now, before you all get mad at me, no, I am not racist--but I lived in Oklahoma long enough to know how minorities were treated there. That's not what is at issue here, even though his minority status has had an effect on his life, adding more to his already pretty tough existence.
The problem I'm dealing with is that this boy's been in some pretty tough foster situations, and his way of coping has been through sex. One foster mom sexually abused him, starting this whole cycle going, and since then the homes he's been in haven't helped. He was in a competitive situation with a couple of foster kids, both girls, and his way of fighting back was to charm them into having a relationship with him. Both ended in pregnancy, and he denied both girls' stories when they told the foster parents, ensuring both girls would be sent away to other homes. His deafness actually worked in his favor, for it made his foster parents each time think such a relationship was impossible.
The first girl got an abortion and was sent off to another family, and only much later was Ben moved (for other reasons). When Ben did the same thing to the second girl, she committed suicide. This event cut him deeply (deservedly so, I think).
This is all past stuff, though, for now Ben is on this boat with Noah and his daughters--by chance--and the youngest girl is in love with him. (It's a modern-day Noah's Ark story.) And he's scared to death of doing something awful all over again. Even more, he can't forgive himself for what he's already done, and he can't reconcile to himself that he's alive when it seems like the whole rest of the world is dead (they aren't all dead, but nobody knows that yet). He actually tried to throw himself off the boat the first night, once he realized where he was and what had happened, but Noah and several others prevented him from dying that first night.
I guess I have a few questions, and I hope some of you can help me with them:
1. Is his crime unforgivable (in other words, is it too awful for readers to forgive)?
2. Is his crime too soft (i.e., is he making too much of it and just sounding whiny)?
3. How can he express what he's done in writing? The daughter's learned some sign language, but not enough for me to just translate it into dialogue like I do the simpler exchanges--he has to write it out. I've written out about 100 versions of this--in one-sentence format--and every one has sounded downright stupid.
I just need some intelligent opinions about this--even if it's to tell me that none of it makes a bit of sense.
What do you think?