The Mockingbirds superficial exam of tough subject

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney; published by Little, Brown & Co., New York, 2010; 332 pages.

Themis Academy is home to perfect students preparing for powerful careers, or at least that’s how the administration and staff see it.  When Alex realizes she’s the victim of date rape, she knows she can’t tell any teachers or the headmaster about it.  At the urging of her roommates and her older sister, she turns to The Mockingbirds, Themis’ vigilante student group that metes out justice underground.

I applaud Whitney’s frequent definitions of date rape, including the fact that not saying no does not mean yes. I also commend her and the publisher for including resources for empowering girls at the end of the book.  I was interested in reading that Whitney was a date rape victim in college.  All should add up to a recommendation for this book.

However, the characters are one-dimensional; the victim’s physical relationship with a new boy within weeks of her rape is disturbing; and the Mockingbirds trial is laughable.  Much of the story is told rather than shown and what is told is superficial or superfluous.  Important pieces of information are laid bare and then left lying there, such as the date raper’s disturbing, threatening phone call before the trial.  Perhaps it was just me, but I picked up a few references to Laurie Halse Anderson’s book Speak which eloquently explores date rape and its impact on the victim.  Whitney seems to be taking jabs at Anderson when Alex states she isn’t going to be a victim that goes mute and uses post-it notes to communicate.  Once I read that paragraph, I thought, why would anyone writing about a horrific topic take aim at another author writing about the same topic, especially when the other author is a multi-award winning writer whose book received the Printz honor?

Of course victims of violent crimes react differently.  Perhaps Alex’s reaction is typical for some girls, but does that make it okay to poke at girls who don’t react the same way?  Inexcusable.  Because this book explores a difficult and often silent issue, I would recommend it (reluctantly) but I’d be sure readers had finished Speak before reading this one.

Taking the above issues out of the mix, Whitney’s debut novel includes an interesting premise in the form of the vigilante group.  I was intrigued by the rules imposed on the Mockingbirds and I was impressed by the way the system operated.  For a debut novel, the writing is passable and the premise is interesting.  Beyond that, I don’t see the appeal of this book.

3P   2Q     Grade Level: 11-12

Cover Art: I read the paperback version with the washed out partial face of, I assume, Alex, wearing bright red lipstick and with the title scrawled in red like it was written in the same lipstick.  Maybe I’m a little cranky about this book, but the fact that this girl’s face is washed out but appears to be looking seductively out of the corner of her eye (not to mention the bright red lipstick) sends a horribly mixed message about date rape.  Wish the original cover with the blue bird had been used for the paperback version.

From Reading List: Keepin’ It Real (Realistic Fiction)

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