Title: The Mockingbirds
Author: Daisy Whitney
Publisher: Little, Brown
Publication Date: 2010
Price: $16.99 (hardcover) $8.99 (paperback)
Interest Age: 14 to 17
Lexile Level: 720
Annotation: Date raped at a party and seeking justice, Alex goes to The Mockingbirds – a secret society dedicated to justice.
Plot Summary: A standout classical musician, Alex Patrick thought she was just enjoying a night off with friends at her boarding school, Themis Academy. When she wakes up the next day in a strange bed naked, she has no memory of the previous night. As fragment memories return, she realizes she was rape. The thought of facing the boy who took advantage of her everyday or telling the authorities makes her anxious and sick. Instead, she turns to a secret group of students bent on serving justice, The Mockingbirds, to investigate and deliver justice.
Critical Evaluation: The Mockingbirds opens with Alex waking up in an unknown person’s bed with no memory of the night before. She had sex, but she never remembers consenting. As fragments of the night comes back, Alex realizes that she been raped. What follows is an exceptional debut book about a young girl’s stand for justice. Complex and authentic, Whitney weaves a story that’s part courtroom drama and part emotional journey as Alex struggles to find her self and her voice in the aftermath of her rape.
I really love this book. It was one of my favorite debut novels of 2010. The characters and plot were so skillfully crafted that this is an impressive story that I would advocate every teen and their parent read this book. Alex’s characterization felt very spot-on and realistic as she struggles with her feelings of doubt, guilt, shame, etc. as she attempts to feel ‘normal’ again. Her vulnerability and strength as she confronts her demons and her rapist definitely got me rooting for her. I also enjoyed the strong secondary female characters Whitney writes. Maia, Amy, T.S., etc. were all incredible characters as they help support Alex through her healing process. My internal feminist was definitely jumping up and down as these characters appeared on the page. Additionally, Whitney does not fall into the trap of characterizing all the boys as one-dimensional stereotypes. There were the jerks (Carter), but she also has Jones and Martin, boys who have a strong moral code and different ideas on how to approach justice.
One major aspect that I notice in many reviews is the commentary that Carter did not get a fitting enough punishment for his crime. Date rape is something that needs to be address by the public legal system and that he should be given time in prison, etc.. I don’t disagree with that statement. Rape is a serious issue and I completely agree that Carter should be given a harsher sentence, but given the confines of the premise, the punishment the Mockingbirds give for the guilt sentence is as far as their power can go. Because the Mockingbirds is a student-run society, anything harsher is out of their reach. The other comments I notice is about the version of justice that the Mockingbirds use on Carter. I can understand their point, but my counterpoint is that since the Mockingbirds is not a formal court of justice, they have to use other avenues to ensure that the accuse show up for the case and accept their punishment if found guilty. If they did not use ways to compel the accused to show up, how will they tried the case or punish someone, the Mockingbirds will be an ineffective group. And it is very checks and balance as attest by Alex when she signed the contract. If Alex was found lying, she’ll have to accept punishment.
“Sexual assault is against the standards to which Themis students hold themselves. Sexual assault is sexual contact (not just intercourse) where one of the parties has not given or cannot give active verbal consent, i.e., uttered a clear “yes” to the action. If a person does not say “no” that does not mean he or she said “yes.” Silence does not equal consent. Silence could mean fear, confusion, inebriation. The only thing that means yes is yes. A lack of yes is a no.”
This quote above is one of the most candid messages I read about rape in a YA book and one of the best messages in this book. Especially today, where society still stigmatizes women for not being a virgin or acting morally (getting drunk or high, dressing provactively, etc.). And if they do act unmoral, they are therefore “asking for it.” The Mockingbirds empowers women with its strong message that rape isn’t simply the act of sexual intercourse and that being drunk or expressing sexuality through clothes or words is not an agreement to sex. That silence does not equal consent. And a lack of yes is a no. These messages alone makes The Mockingbirds a must-read for anybody and everybody, but combined with the awesome characters and plot, its not only empowering, but page-turning as well.
Author Bio: Daisy Whitney reports on television, media and advertising for a range of news outlets. She graduated from Brown University and lives in San Francisco, California, with her fabulous husband, fantastic kids, and adorable dogs. Daisy believes in karma and that nearly every outfit is improved with a splash of color. She is the author of “The Mockingbirds” novels, “When You Were Here,” and “Starry” “Nights.” Daisy invites you to follow her online at DaisyWhitney.com.
Tie to Curriculum Units: Sex Ed – Consent
Booktalking Ideas: Student justice, Harper Lee, date rape, boarding school, secret societies
Challenge Issues: Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and School Library review states “Written with a deep awareness of post-trauma experience and a keen ear for high school dialogue, this novel makes an impassioned case for youth taking responsibility for the actions of their peers.”