Friday, October 8, 2010

The Mockingbirds

Whitney, Daisy. The Mockingbirds. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

When Alex wakes up in a guy's dorm room with no clothes and no recollection of how she got there, she knows that something wrong has happened. She doesn't want to go to the cops, and going to administration of Themis Academy is useless. She just wants the whole thing to go away, to have never happened. When she starts remembering that night, and dealing with what those memories do to her, she stops feeling safe. In the halls, in class, in the caf, anywhere he might be. That's where The Mockingbirds come in. They're a group of students masquerading as an a cappella group who enforce the Themis Academy Honor Code and dispense justice among those in the student body who break it. And if Alex decides to press charges, hers will be the first case of date rape tried in their secret court.

Starting the morning after that night, The Mockingbirds is an intense book. The reader, like Alex, starts out not knowing what's going on and, with her, pieces that night together over the course of the entire book. It isn't until almost the end that Alex remembers the entire night, or as much as she's ever going to, and by then she's come to terms with a lot of it and had some time to heal. It's still horrible, clearly, but presenting the rape in that way, in short pieces over the course of the book, takes away the shock and some of the horror of it. It's not graphic, though it may still be triggering for some people.

Alex's big conflict for most of the book is accepting what happened to her as rape. 
I've thought about rape before. I pictured it happening to me. A dark alley, some rough guy I don't know who's five times my size grabs me and forces me to my knees, a knife to my throat. Sometimes I'd picture it happening in my house while everyone was asleep. He'd come in through my window and hover above me. I'd be startled awake, pinned down in my own bed, everything I know that's right in the world ripped out of my chest.

That is rape.

I know rape is something else too. It's just I always thought of it in a very specific way -- with a very specific kind of attacker -- not in a way I'd have to defend, not in a way where I'd have to preface everything with "I was drunk, really drunk."

She has loads and loads of guilt about being drunk enough to be taken to the room of a guy she didn't know. If she can't remember getting to his room or even large chunks of the party before hand, maybe she's also simply not remembering that she wanted to have and enjoyed having sex with him. While she knows this isn't true, the dirty and used feeling won't let her actually think that, she knows she has to prove that she wasn't "asking for it," something no sexual assault victim should ever have to do. It's bad enough hearing other people recount her drunken exploits of that night in front of the Mockingbirds while she's building her case; she could never explain her drinking and other bad decisions to the cops, her parents, or the administration of Themis Academy. It takes her a really long time to really believe that though she made bad decisions, being raped was never her fault, but that point is eventually made very clear for Alex (and the reader) by her friends, the Themis Academy Honor Code, and during her trial.

Still, this doesn't read like a problem novel. Of course Alex is consumed with what happened to her and its aftermath, and that takes up a lot of the book. But this is also about the Mockingbirds themselves, their founding, the checks and balances in their system, and ultimately their power over the student body. It's very cloak and dagger, but on the side of truth and justice! Through her interactions with the Mockingbirds, Alex gains confidence and strength. She also makes plenty of new friends and figures out just how much all of her old friends are willing to go to bat for her. She even gets a bit of romance. And, of course, this is all set at a boarding school for the extremely gifted. This book would be just as good and just as compelling (though not nearly as heart-wrenching) if Alex were pressing charges for bullying or some other offense rather than date rape. The story is really balanced in that way. Because The Mockingbirds is this year's big book about date rape, one might assume that it should be reserved for older young adults, but all the other elements in the book make it, I think, accessible to all high schoolers, not just the about-to-go-college ones. And, as the book points out when other girls start telling Alex their own stories, it's not as though date rape is something that only happens to high school upperclasswomen or older.

The book closes with an author's note where Whitney talks about her own experiences with both date rape and a student-run justice system. Resources for victims of sexual assault as well as organizations promoting the empowerment of young women are also provided.

The Mockingbirds will be out on November 2nd!
But it looks like it's already available for purchase on amazon.

Book source: ARC provided by the publisher.

*Quotes and page numbers were taken from an uncorrected proof and my not match the published copy.


Heather H. said...

I've been seeing this book mentioned throughout the blogosphere lately, but had no idea what it was about. I'm so glad I finally do! This book sounds amazing, as well as honest and tragic. Great review!

anachronist said...

A really good position and a very needed position to boot; I think even older people than YA should read it because the topic is difficult but if you are a girl/woman you should know something about it. Thanks for the review!

Lawral the Librarian said...

Thanks you two! This really is a powerful book.

Anachronist, you're right that older than YAs should read it too as it really does delve into how to recover from something that happens more often than we want to admit. The safey month signs in the ladies' rooms at the college I work at say that 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted before they finish college. 1 in 4! I'm just worried that while we push for the older set to read it, it will be kept from slightly younger audiences. Anyone who is dating, in the real one-on-one without friends or parents kind of way, should also have access to books like this.

anachronist said...

"Anyone who is dating, in the real one-on-one without friends or parents kind of way, should also have access to books like this. "

Definitely and as nowadays younger and younger kids date if they don't read this book at least their parents should!