Review: The Mockingbirds

Some schools have honor codes.
Others have handbooks.
Themis Academy has the Mockingbirds.

Themis Academy is a quiet boarding school with an exceptional student body that the administration trusts to always behave the honorable way–the Themis Way. So when Alex is date raped during her junior year, she has two options: stay silent and hope someone helps her, or enlist the Mockingbirds–a secret society of students dedicated to righting the wrongs of their fellow peers.

In this honest, page-turning account of a teen girl’s struggle to stand up for herself, debut author Daisy Whitney reminds readers that if you love something or someone–especially yourself–you fight for it.–From Amazon

I don’t know how many times I can say a book is one of the best I’ve read this year and maintain any credibility; we’ve still got quite a few months left in 2010, so I guess we’ll find out. The thing is, I’m pretty convinced that this is a golden age for YA, and Daisy Whitney’s The Mockingbirds really is a phenomenal debut novel–one of the best I’ve read this year.

Last summer, I took a Children’s Lit class at Cal State University, Northridge. During the course of a discussion on censorship, which everyone was unanimously against initially, we began to question whether there were any topics that people would really consider off limits for YA or children’s lit. When students started to consider what they might not want their own children to read, people discovered that they all had boundaries, each person has some point at which they would be uncomfortable having a kid or teen read a book. For many people, that boundary was rape. Now, I acknowledge the right of any parent to determine what is acceptable for their own child to read, but of course that is extremely different from determining what other people’s children should be allowed to read. The fact is that, according to several studies I found, about 40% of reported rape cases occurred to people under the age of 18. Rape happens to teens far too often, and they have a right to read about.

In The Mockingbirds, Alex is raped after a drunken night out at a club. She wakes up the next morning in a boy’s room, naked, and discovers two condoms in the trashcan. The trouble is that Alex can barely remember anything that happened that night, but her friends know that she was in no condition to consent. Alex attends a progressive boarding school where punishment is rarely meted out because the school believes the students can do no wrong, but a group of students called the Mockingbirds serve as the school’s vigilante justice system, taking students’ punishments into their own hands. After Alex’s rape, the Mockingbirds become protectors, judges, and jurors. As the investigation and trial are underway, Alex begins to remember bits and pieces of what happened to her, and she knows that the sex was not consensual.

Daisy Whitney’s book, inspired by her own experience of being date raped in college, is vividly and powerfully written. I was on the verge of tears throughout most of it. This is not to say that the book didn’t have light moments, because there certainly are some, but the overall intensity and my amazement at what I was reading kept me pretty emotional. In addition to Whitney’s beautiful capturing of Alex’s feelings throughout the book, she also did an impressive job incorporating details from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, on which the school’s justice system is based. (However, those who haven’t read the classic will find that enough explanation is provided to understand everything in this book anyway. But they should still read Harper Lee’s book because it is truly one of the best of all time.) The book was clearly well researched all around, from the descriptions of the classical music Alex plays to Martin the science geek’s mini-lessons on bird intellect. Martin and the other supporting characters were also thoroughly fleshed out, each one with their own story that adds to the book’s strength.

The Mockingbirds shows readers that there can be consequences to stupid drunken behavior, but that if you are raped, you are still the victim and you still have options. It also portrays the importance of speaking out, because even if you will never be who you were before, you cannot let the rape eat away at you and define you forever. In Whitney’s book, Alex does not reach out to any authorities, but she still finds a support system within her school and makes it clear that you do not have to be alone. The novel is never preachy, nor does it stray into feminist manifesto, but it does lend a voice to those who often have difficulty finding their own. At the end of the book, Whitney shares some of her own story and provides resources for people who have experienced sexual assault.

I would highly recommend The Mockingbirds to fans of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.

Note: I am not sure whether this is the final cover, but it is the cover image on the ARC I received, provided by Book it Forward Tours.


7 Responses to "Review: The Mockingbirds"

  • Wow, what a great review. This book is going on my wishlist now for sure, it sounds excellent. Thank you for convincing me that I need to give this book a shot!

    1 TheLibraryLurker said this (June 21, 2010 at 3:24 PM)

  • Thank you! So glad you are going to add it to your wish list; you won’t be disappointed.

    2 Melanie said this (June 21, 2010 at 7:47 PM)

  • I am quite interested in this one, I loved your review and it is quite helpful, looking forward to getting it when it comes out! I think the idea about this secret society sounds really interesting!

    3 fromawriter said this (July 20, 2010 at 2:03 PM)

  • I can’t wait to hear what you think when you read it!

    4 Melanie said this (July 21, 2010 at 10:25 AM)

  • I liked the book as well but I had some major problems with the society. I put my review up last night.

    5 Pam said this (September 29, 2010 at 12:10 PM)

  • Pam, I can definitely understand your concern and distaste for the vigilante justice system portrayed in this book. It’s certainly not something I would like to see happening in reality, but it didn’t take away from the story for me personally.

    6 Melanie said this (September 29, 2010 at 1:11 PM)

  • Oh, I loved this book! I can see why perhaps the idea of vigilantism might turn some off, but as a 16 year old, I thought it was actually pretty cool. The administration isn’t always there for kids — not because they’re evil or anything, just because they … well, they can’t always be there. The idea that we teens can be there for each other is an appealing one. I mean, yeah, I can see some flaws…but it was made by kids, for kids. It was realistic in a way that I kind of thought was cool, plus I loved that Alex was able to heal. I think a lot of people will really love this book.

    7 Sam said this (October 5, 2010 at 10:52 PM)