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The Mockingbirds


The Mockingbirds

Alex is a gifted music student in her junior year at Themis Academy, an elite boarding school in New England. When faced with a difficult problem, she likes to imagine herself in the first row at Carnegie Hall, sitting with Beethoven, Mozart and Gershwin, and receiving guidance from her musical dream team. But when Alex wakes up one morning naked next to a boy whose name she can barely remember, she knows that she has a problem too big even for the Masters to solve.

What is worse is that this was her first time --- she hadn’t even had sex with her ex-boyfriend Daniel, who is now away at college. It is entirely out-of-character for serious, focused Alex to have gotten so drunk at a concert that she now has only the fuzziest memories of the ensuing night with Carter. A night that he leeringly indicates was so steamy that they did it twice.

At first, all Alex wants is for things to be normal again. But it becomes all too clear that she can’t merely wish away the previous night...Carter did have sex with her while she was passed out drunk. Soon, the tiny campus is bubbling with the news of her night with Carter, who has shared the salacious details with his friends. In response, Alex soon takes to plotting out every minute of her day, determined to avoid running into Carter and his coterie of sneering water polo players at all costs --- even if it means taking the most circuitous path to class and never again eating in the school cafeteria.

But as details of the night emerge in flashbacks, Alex and her friends begin to understand that she was in fact date raped. There are many people who can testify to the extent of her inebriation on the night in question, and it becomes clear that she had been in no condition to give consent, to walk unaided into Carter’s room, to say “yes” to his advances.

Although Alex finally knows what transpired on that fateful night, she still has no direct evidence of date rape, or a clear path to finding justice. The teachers at Themis Academy believe that elite students such as theirs could only behave in an honorable way. Instead of approaching them or the police with her case, Alex decides to seek out the Mockingbirds, a vigilante group that takes its name from Harper Lee’s iconic novel about justice. They are members of a semi-secret student society who mete out their own brand of justice to students who step out of line.

As Alex begins to prepare for her trial before the Mockingbirds, she finds her inner courage and determination, and becomes so much more than the quiet and reserved “piano girl” she had previously been. Ultimately, this is what THE MOCKINGBIRDS is about: a young woman finding her own courage and starting the journey to recovery and a fuller understanding of herself.

The story, told in first person, is immediate and compelling from the very first page. THE MOCKINGBIRDS is a fascinating novel that makes for a surprisingly easy and enjoyable read. Whatever it was that I expected from a book about date rape, this wasn’t it. Instead of leaving one drained as can sometimes happen with books that deal with difficult subjects, it leaves the reader feeling hopeful. This is not to say that the portrayal of the date rape and its aftermath do not seem real or relatable --- Alex’s voice rings true all the way through, both in exploring her conflicted feelings and in coming to terms with what has happened to her. Daisy Whitney explains in her author’s note that she herself was date raped as a college student, an experience that no doubt lends Alex’s story its authentic tone.

The notion of a student-run body to judge and punish student misdemeanors and crimes is deftly handled, although Whitney focuses on the idealism inherent in the idea rather than on the potential dangers of vigilante justice run amok. The story of the rape and the trial are leavened by a burgeoning romance between Alex and a cute guy who is the antithesis of her attacker, in the days leading up to the trial. While I found the interactions between Alex and her new love entirely disarming, I had to wonder if a rape victim would be so quick to trust and fall in love soon after the event.

While THE MOCKINGBIRDS is a beautifully written, informative portrayal of date rape, it is also a moving coming-of-age story, of a teenage girl who faces a crisis and finds her strongest self in the process. The theme of the book and the occasional use of profanity make it unsuitable for children under 13. However, for any young person in high school or entering college, I think THE MOCKINGBIRDS ought to be considered required reading.

Reviewed by Usha Rao on November 2, 2010

The Mockingbirds
by Daisy Whitney

  • Publication Date: January 2, 2012
  • Genres: Fiction, Young Adult 12+
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0316090549
  • ISBN-13: 9780316090544