Nov 30, 2010

Book Review: The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

by Daisy Whitney
9780316090537, $16.99, Little Brown (Hachette)

E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks meets Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak in this debut novel.

I love the tagline for this book:

“Hush little students, don’t say a word…”

There’s something slightly creepy about nursery rhymes used in non-nursery rhyme contexts. While this isn’t a YA horror novel, the teens at Themis Academy do need to watch their backs. Because while the administration at this private boarding school may believe all their students are perfect, the Mockingbirds are fully aware that not everyone acts honorably all the time. Where the administration fails to enforce any sort of consequence for dishonorable conduct, the Mockingbirds step in to pick up the slack.

When Alexandra Nicole Patrick gets date-raped in her junior year by a popular member of the water polo team, she knows going to the administration is not an option. Neither is going to the police, which will only result in lots of publicity, hysterics from her parents, and Alex getting yanked out of Themis – none of which she wants to deal with. What does Alex want? Justice. And there’s only one place to go for justice at Themis Academy – The Mockingbirds.

An underground system for justice, the Mockingbirds are a student organization set up several years ago by Alex’s older sister. Their purpose is to be judge and jury for student-against-student crimes. There are three tiers of Mockingbird participants, a system of checks-and-balances, and above all, fair justice dealt out to all parties involved.

With the help and support of her roommates T.S. and Maia, Alex accuses Carter Hutchinson of date rape. There’s only one problem – Alex doesn’t remember a lot of details from that night. If she was too drunk to say yes, then it follows that she was too drunk to participate in consensual sex, and therefore Carter raped her. Or did he?

As the Mockingbirds investigate, Maia cross-examines, and T.S. offers moral support, Alex tries to retain some semblance of her before life – before the rape, before she avoided the cafeteria for meals, before she started mapping out new Carter-less routes to class, and before she began having flashbacks to a night she’d almost prefer remain a mystery. Alex just wants to focus on playing the piano, on the possibility of getting into Julliard, and on her new crush-like feelings for Martin, one of the three students on the Mockingbirds’ board of directors. It’s when Alex learns more about the Mockingbirds’ history, when other female students let Alex know similar things have happened to them, and when Alex gets tired of living in the difference of before vs. after that she begins to realize the importance of standing up, speaking out, and ensuring that justice – even an underground, student-run justice – is the only way to finally get back to being just normal.

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