Module #7: Mockingbirds

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Book Summary
Alex wakes up in a strange dorm room with a strange boy, evidence of the previous night’s events scattered across the room.  It’s clear what happened, but Alex has no memory of any of it after leaving the concert with her friends.  As pieces of her memory come back to her and she confides in her best friend and her sister, she realizes the truth–she was date raped.  She can stay quiet about it, try to move on with her life, or she can find someone who can help her take a stand.  She seeks the assistance of a student organization, The Mockingbirds–named after Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  Will they right the wrongs inflicted upon students by fellow students, or will Alex be left standing alone in the end?

  APA Reference
Whitney, D. (2012).  The mockingbirds.  New York, NY:  Little Brown.

ImpressionsThe opening chapter as Alex rises from a stranger’s bed, naked and disoriented, paints the picture of a too familiar scene.  Whitney approaches the sensitive and sometimes taboo topic of date rape with an honest victim’s perspective.  When Alex realizes what has happened to her, we wonder why she doesn’t fight harder, tell the authorities or her parents.  Whitney constructs Alex in a way where we not only understand, but we empathize with the many stages of grief she must wade through following a traumatic event.  Perhaps the most poignant scene comes right on the heals of resolution.  Alex confides in the one adult she trusts to counsel her that she doubts herself and the accusations she’s brought against another student.  A vague memory surfaces of that night that makes her question the whole course of events.  This realism and honesty stems from Whitney’s personal experiences, which breathe purpose and heroism into her debut novel.

Professional Review
Section: The Book Review

WHITNEY, Daisy. The Mockingbirds. 339p. Web sites. CIP. Little, Brown. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-316-09053-7. LC 2009051257.
Gr 9 Up–Alex wakes up in a strange bed, naked, and with a terrible headache, lying next to a boy whose name she doesn’t know. A junior at an elite boarding school, she is used to a controlled and nearly perfect life. Among all the talented and special students at Themis Academy, Alex is a standout as a classical musician. How could she have been so stupid as to have sex–for the very first time–with this stranger? It takes several days, and the support of her roommates and friends, for her to piece together the events that led up to that horrible morning. The portrayal of the aftermath of alcohol-fueled sexual assault is particularly well drawn. Alex is confused, disoriented, and deeply shamed, but her friends help her understand that, no matter how drunk she was, sex without consent is rape. There is no help from the school authorities, who have failed to protect students from one another in the past, so Alex turns to the Mockingbirds. This semisecret society is an ingenious student-initiated justice system that holds individuals responsible for their actions. Just like in the world outside, the wheels of justice turn slowly, but ultimately Alex has the satisfaction of holding her assailant to account. Particularly poignant is Alex’s growing relationship with a kind and caring boy who helps her regain her equilibrium and look to the future. Written with a deep awareness of post-trauma experience and a keen ear for high school dialogue, this novel makes an impassioned case for youth taking responsibility for the actions of their peers.
By Carolyn Lehman, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA

Lehman, C. (2011). The Mockingbirds [Review of the book The Mockingbirds]. School Library Journal57(3), 175.

Library Uses
The Mockingbirds fits well with additional titles that address social justice and standing up for those who are dis-empowered.  Paired with other books that deal with difficult topics for teens such as Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson,  Lay that Trumpet in Our Hands by Susan Carol McCarthy, and Harper Lee’s iconic work, these books allow students to safely explore complex themes.  The library may promote these titles by timing a book talk or display with the English department’s study of To Kill a Mockingbird.

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