Tuesday, June 7, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Mockingbirds -- Daisy Whitney

Alex awakens nude in the bed of a stranger. Gradually, she recalls his name and a few details. Frightened, she gets up and commences to dress and sneak out. The young man awakens and crassly asks her if she'd like another go.

Feeling sick, Alex departs the room thinking she might have had sex with him. But she can't remember...Gradually details come back to her.

What happened to Alex was date rape.

Alex is the "piano girl" at New England's Themis Academy. The school for gifted-and-talented kids is great at creating an environment for intellectual growth, but like many schools, not so great at policing student behavior.

Once she realizes what has happened to her, Alex doesn't want to tell her parents, the police. Quite honestly, she's not sure of the whole story. Like many victims or rape, memories gradually return giving her nightmares and making her afraid to venture out of her safe dorm room. When she finally breaks down and tells her roomie and friend, she learns she has another option--The Mockingbirds.

The Mockingbirds are a student organization at Themis which arose from the students' need for justice outside of what faculty provided and the law. Alex is initially reluctant to go to the group, but as the boy starts spreading sexual rumors about her, she has no choice.

Soon, there will be a trial and yes, there will be consequences if Alex's rapist is found guilty.

"Mockingbirds" is not an easy read. Alex's narrative makes readers uncomfortable from the beginning and the storyline keeps up the pressure through most of the book. There were times I was torn between putting "Mockingbirds" down and walking away for a break and just getting it over with.

Alex and her friends were good companions to take through such a tale. The characters were well drawn and the emotions surrounding the situation felt real and solidly grounded. Details of the rape were handled in a matter-of-fact manner that does not linger or dwell on too harsh moments.

Not to say the story is not upsetting. Ms. Whitney's narrative is real, powerful, and thought-provoking. She confesses in the biographical notes on the book's back cover that she herself was raped and the story very much reflects her own experience sans the Mockingbirds aid.

One rule to remember, "Silence is not consent. The only real consent is saying yes."

I'd suggest every young adult girl read the book preferably before she starts going to parties and events where date rape could happen. Young women need to make pre-arrangements with trusted friends to watch their back and help get them out of situations that are potentially hazardous. They also need to know how to party responsibly because like it or not, Parents, your daughters going to do party at one point or another even at so-called Christian events. What got Alex into her predicament was that she was a novice drinker and she didn't realize she needed to eat along with alcohol or it'd go straight to her head.

Older readers like me will still find the book instructional and perhaps a bit traumatic. For me, the book brought back some memories.

There were a number of times I was just plain lucky. In second grade a friend and I were jumped by several older boys coming home from elementary school. The last thing I remember is being held and seeing my friend's sweater removed. I know we got away, but I can't tell you how. Yes, memory loss is common among rape victims and apparently even attempted rape, too.

Then there was the time when I was in ninth grade walking home from school and got hit by a car at a crosswalk. The very concerned male driver suggested I get in so he could take me to Saint Anthony's. I admit I was hurt and I was bruised afterwards, but I was not getting in the car with him. Luckily, friends were coming along the way and I called to them. The driver pulled away fast. I'm pretty certain he didn't have my welfare in mind or he'd have stuck around.

Like I said, I was really lucky in both cases, but believe me, some girls are not. And yes, they need to understand that it's a tough world out there. The school they attend may not have the Mockingbirds, but they can learn from even a fictional character's mistakes and determine ways to protect themselves and their friends. And perhaps if they have been attacked, they will not feel so alone. Both of these reasons to read "Mockingbirds" are valid.

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