TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
Daisy Whitney's new novel "The Mockingbirds" is a great "discussion" book for teens, as it touches upon issues of date rape, consent, silence, punishment, and justice. While I found parts of this book to be a bit preachy, overall it is a compelling, thoughtful exploration of the aftermath of rape.
Alex is a junior at Themis Academy, a private boarding school, when she awakens in water polo player Carter's bed with no memory of the night before. Gradually, Alex pieces together a night of drinking, kissing, passing out, and awakening intermittently to find Carter having sex with her. Alex, who is an exceptional musician, at first keeps the rape a secret. But when Carter begins spreading rumors about her, a humiliated Alex reduces her entire life down to a few safe places. She avoids the dining hall, stays in her room, methodically plots out paths to classes, and otherwise reorders her existence to avoid any interactions with Carter. Eventually, Alex seeks help from a secret campus organization, the Mockingbirds, who investigate and police student infractions. What follows is a sort of secret trial conducted by the Mockingbirds, at which both Alex and Carter are allowed to present evidence and cross examine witnesses.
"The Mockingbirds" is pretty much Alex's story, and it works best when it delves into her fractured memory and presents her conflicting sense of guilt, shame, helplessness, and, eventually, power and hope. Alex's reactions — from hiding out to blaming herself to ultimately reclaiming her person and her freedom — feel completely authentic and are beautifully, unflinchingly portrayed. I especially liked how author Whitney presents the "gray" areas of Alex's behavior, as in when Alex recalls fleetingly abandoning her efforts to push Carter away on the night of the rape. That's important from a social responsibility standpoint — girls should know that silence and a lack of fight do NOT equal consent — as well as from a story standpoint; people's actions are never absolutely one way or another. As such, Alex becomes a fully fleshed out, emotionally resonant character.
Unfortunately, the other characters in the story, including sweet love interest Martin, crusading friend Maia, the lecherous Carter, and his evil buddy Henry, have little if any depth. The heroes are heroic, the villains are villainous, the champions champion … well, you get the idea. I would've liked these high school kids to feel like real kids, with that magical combination of faults, flaws, and goodness that makes YA characters leap off the page. While we have that in Alex, her supporting cast is not nearly as believable.
I also thought some passages of the book read as didactic. Alex's music teacher Miss Dimata, her older sister Casey, best friend T.S., and Mockingbirds Amy and Ilana — although providing encouragement and much-needed support — can come off as if they're spouting public service announcement lines instead of genuine expressions of compassion. These characters provide dialogue that is important for us and for the story; still, at times, their words feel preachy and false.
Leaving these two criticisms aside, "The Mockingbirds" is an effective novel about one girl's pain and recovery. While it can be difficult to read at times, I found myself eagerly turning the pages, hoping that Alex's journey would bring her to a place of transformation and peace. If you stick with "The Mockingbirds" through some of its flimsy characterizations and occasional lapses into preachiness, I think you'll be glad. You will be rewarded with a novel that is willing to tackle the weighty issue of sexual assault and explore some intriguing views of justice.
Although it is not terribly graphic, I think this book's challenging subject matter makes it a better fit for high school readers. See what you think. "The Mockingbirds" is out now.