Author: Daisy Whitney
Format: Hardcover (library)
Genre: Contemporary YA
Synopsis: Some schools have honor codes.
Others have handbooks.
Themis Academy has the Mockingbirds.
Themis Academy is a quiet boarding school with an exceptional student body that the administration trusts to always behave the honorable way--the Themis Way. So when Alex is date raped during her junior year, she has two options: stay silent and hope someone helps her, or enlist the Mockingbirds--a secret society of students dedicated to righting the wrongs of their fellow peers.
In this honest, page-turning account of a teen girl's struggle to stand up for herself, debut author Daisy Whitney reminds readers that if you love something or someone--especially yourself--you fight for it. (Summary from Amazon)
It's Valentine's Day so I should probably be reviewing a romance or something. This book definitely has some elements of romance. The Mockingbirds was an unexpected read for me. I previewed it on my Kindle, just messing around, but after I read the first couple of chapters I was hooked. I had to read the rest and I finished the book in a little over a day. It was a very quick read. I just had to know what was going to happen next.
The Mockingbirds has one of those cliche beginnings where the narrator wakes up. However, there is nothing ordinary about Alex's morning. She doesn't know where she is. She doesn't know who this boy is. Her confusion is handled well and seems very authentic. It's not just a gimmick. And then, slowly, the truth starts to come back.
The more intriguing part of this novel was the world it was set in. Themis Academy is a liberal boarding school filled with incredible students. Each one is driven, has a passion, is supremely talented and smart. It was nice to see such a high achieving cast of characters. This is certainly not the norm. Everyone is exceptional and so is the school in almost every way except the leadership. I think it was important for Whitney to create a school where the adults were very hands off. So the teachers at Themis and the administration live in a bubble where they challenge students daily and appreciate their amazing talents when students perform for the Faculty Club while ignoring all their faults and problems which seem to be glaringly obvious at some times. I found it a little hard to believe that all the teachers and admin at Themis could be so completely oblivious (with one noted exception) and that they wouldn't have any support in the dorms like an RA or something just to enforce basic rules like curfew or whatever but I was willing to suspend my disbelief because this was the world I was presented with and it was necessary so that the Mockingbirds would have a place at Themis.
There were so many interesting characters. T.S. is Alex's best friend, a strong-willed soccer chick who recognizes the problem with Alex's story about her night after the concert before Alex even those. Maia, Alex's roommate, a fierce debater, ready to take her case to trial from the very first moment. Jones, the second most talented musician in the school, ready to defend Alex by whatever means possible. Sandeep, deeply analytical, so much so that he can calculate Alex's blood alcohol level by totaling her drinks and correctly estimating her weight. These may not be the type of students that you know but it's believable they would all exist in this high school, each highly intelligent and highly moral, not afraid to state their views and opinions.
Then there's Carter, Alex's date-rapist. He's on the Water Polo team, a team for arrogant jocks. It reminded me of the OC because that's the only other time I've seen a water polo team in teen life and they were mean jocks too. Carter is cocky, crude, a liar and a rapist. His friends are equally as nasty. This was my main quibble with the book. Alex's friends were so righteous and almost perfect. If this is such an exceptional school that admits only the best students why didn't we ever get a sense of how Carter and his friends ever got in. They didn't seem exceptional or bright or talented. They were just horrible harassers and stereotypical jocks. Is water polo really that valued of a talent? I wonder what the story would have been like if there were more of a gray area when it came to the situation. If Alex really couldn't remember much, if Carter were confused about what consent actually should be. Not that Carter should be necessarily sympathetic but he didn't fit in with any of the other kids. As it is Alex's case is very black and white but that doesn't mean it comes without complications. There are plenty of complications.
Alex's emotional struggle with her rape seems very real. She goes back and forth with her feels. She's torn between blaming herself, guilt, anger and shame. I definitely wanted to see her get some real help from a professional but luckily Alex has a strong network of friends around her. You can see her healing process and while it's not easy or straightforward you can tell that Alex is going down the right path to liberate herself from this personal injustice.
The whole experience of the trial by the Mockingbirds was fascinating. The way the Mockingbirds operated was complicated yet nuanced and supported by the book that inspired everything To Kill a Mockingbird. I do wonder why they posed as an acapella group when they know that the faculty likes to have students perform for them. Maybe that will be explored in future books. The way the Mockingbirds works is kind of complicated and confusing but it helps that Alex needs everything broken down for her just like the reader does. Just as Alex is impressed the reader will be impressed by how this student built and run justice system works with seemingly no hiccups. I'm interested in seeing how it will evolve when plaintiff and/or defendant is not as willing to work within the Mockingbirds' well established rules. (I'm pretty sure more books are planned.)
One of the highlights of the book is the budding romance between Martin and Alex. It's very natural and even though it happens during a hard time in Alex's life it still seems like it was meant to be. martin is an upstanding guy with a passion for studying birds. He's very charming and always seems cool, even as he describes the time he dissected an owl. I really enjoyed the chemistry between them. These lighter moments helped balance out the heavy themes in his book.
All in All, The Mockingbirds is a solid read that I recommend. It will make you think about Themis Academy and how justice works in your environment. This situation is very close to the author's heart as she writes in the afterword. There is a lot of passion in this novel and that makes it a satisfying read.