Rummanah Aasi
  Decisions. We make decisions all the time; whether it the simplest ones (i.e. what to eat/wear) or the hardest ones regarding our future. Humans are unique in the fact that we are given free will yet we often times struggle with the consequences of our decisions. I thought a lot about decisions, consequences, and justice when I read Daisy Whitney's debut novel The Mockingbirds. Although I did have some issues with the book, I found myself asking more questions about the above topics long after I finished the book.

Description: Alex wakes up disoriented and naked in a strange boy's bedroom. She does not know the boy's name and has no clue how she got to his room. While her memories slowly come back to her, Alex realizes she has been a victim date rape. She can either be silent or she can seek justice and vocal the injustice done to her by going to the Mockingbirds, an underground student group dedicated to justice.

Review: The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney was one of the debut novels of 2010 that I was really excited to read. I had received an ARC of this book from the publishers and haven't had time to read it until now. What intrigued me about this book is the concept of justice and the proactive student body who creates a justice system to hold students accountable to their actions is  a unique and fresh idea. While I liked the book, I also had a few problems with it.
   As the book opens, we find Alex waking up in a boy's bed and she has absolutely no recollection of the events that transpired and lead her to this room. She does, however, instantly feels something is wrong. She tries to convince herself that this is a bad dream and tries to come up with scenarios of what happened. The very notion of rape doesn't even dawn on her because it is so inconceivable and it only happens in the dark alley with a stranger. Alex remembered she had been drinking and was very drunk.There was no way a boy would take advantage of her in that condition. Its is not until Alex has conversations with her friend and roommate that Alex begins to process that she was date raped and the very concept of consent never registers into her head. Throughout the book we see Alex question herself and try to process that she was definitely raped in her incapacitated state. We watch her passively accept the injustice done to her because she cannot feel anything else.
   Enter the Mockingbirds, Themis Academy's own judge and jury system because the school itself turns a blind eye to conflicts that arise in their 'perfect' school. Bringing the case to the police or Alex's parents are also out of the question. Since there are no adults to turn to, just let your fellow students resolve the issue. Here is my main issue with the book. I would like to think there is at least one adult in Themis Academy who feels responsible for the students and is willing to help with student problems-whether it is from a legal standpoint or as a figure of guidance, but the adults aren't given a chance to help at all in the book. There is one small instance where Alex does seek help from an adult, but that is only when 90% of the story was complete and the trial was well under way, but even then the adult did nothing! I also could not conceive that the police would not have helped, particularly because of the severity of the crime. While the very notion of a student run court system is a very cool concept, for me, I thought the severity of date rape was diminished and not treated very seriously.
  The Mockingbirds themselves is a bit troubling. Their brand of justice is eerily a form of bullying in which they are trying to stop in the first place. I had several questions regarding the Mockingbirds' structure: Is the system really unbiased? How do you determine the punishment? Does the punishment really fit the bill of the crime? How different is the Mockingbirds from our own judicial system?
  While I thought the proceedings was really interesting and well written, I was frustrated that the entire case is based on circumstantial evidence of two unwrapped condoms and on Alex's hazy memory. Based on the amount of alcohol that she drank, I found it hard to believe that she remembered chunks of the infamous night so clearly. Again, the physical evidence which could be taken by a doctor, would have made the case much more serious that it was portrayed.
   Alex has a blossoming romance while the trial is underway. While the relationship was sweet, I also had an issue with it. I have not been in Alex's shoes so I can't say what I would do in her situation, but I would have to imagine that jumping back into any kind of relationship again with a member of the opposite sex would be very difficult. I would think it would take the rape victim a very long time to develop trust issues and intimacy. While I understand that this relationship is suppose to depict a consensual relationship, I felt the relationship happened too soon and quite easy, which didn't feel real to me at all.
  While there were certainly some elements of this story that did not work for me, I did find the book to be an interesting take on the choices that we make as well as the creation of a just justice system. I hope teens will think twice before drinking, having sex, and understanding of what consent means: Yes means Yes vs No means No, which is excellently executed in the book and I think is the main point of this story. I also liked the fact that Whitney didn't just write a dark 'issues' book and left it at that but pushed me to think about uncomfortable questions about our justice system. Whitney, a date rape victim herself, handles Alex's emotional roller coaster ride very well, but I just feel a bit uneasy in how easy the trial was handled and resolved. While not wholly satisfying, The Mockingbirds offers a lot of food for thought and it is a book worth reading.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is language, a scene of underage drinking and mildly explicit episode of date rape that is recounted in several flashbacks. Recommended for ages 14 and up.

If you like this book try: Inexcusable by Chris Lynch
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