First Line: Three things I know this second: I have morning breath, I’m naked, and I’m waking up next to a boy I don’t know.
**WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL HAVE SPOILERS SO PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK**
I first heard about The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney at BEA this past May as it was one of the books that people were buzzing about. In the months that followed there was a lot of buzz about it and with each rave comment and review that I saw I became more and more excited to read it. I finally sat down recently to do just that and I thought that the opening chapter was just amazing. I read it and thought….man I am in for a treat. Sadly, the book took a nosedive from that point forward. Which was sad because I really wanted to like this book.
The first thing that I had issues with was that there was so much TELLING going on. As I read I often felt that Whitney was talking down to me and I didn’t like that feeling. I’d much rather be shown the little details. It also felt like there was too much telling to Alex that she was raped by other characters and less of her actually believing it herself. She just sort of sat, listened, and was like OK if that’s what you guys think then that’s what must have happened. And much of this telling was done by these cloak and dagger means. Secret meetings with her sister and then even more secret meetings with The Mockingbirds (more on them in a few.) Another thing that bothered me was how clueless Alex was. She first learned of the Mockingbirds before she started at Themis Academy as they group was founded by her sister. But other than that she didn’t know anything about them. She never cared to learn. So for most of the book every other character had to explain to her the groups history and their reason for being. I know that there had to be someone not in the know, but all the telling got to be old. I wish that Whitney had used several different means to tell the groups history. When Alex decides to go to the Mockingbirds with her case and begin to learn their purpose she then begins to get very upset when others in her school ignore the flyers and other signs of the group. Talk about your pot calling the kettle black.
Then there were the Mockingbirds themselves. On the surface they sound like a good and worthwhile group of students interested in justice and protecting others. When a student is wronged they can have their case tried by a council of their peers. I was part of a student mediation group when I was in high school. Its amazing how well students governing and interacting with students can work. However, that’s not what the Mockingbirds turn out to be. Instead if student A brings a case against student B then student B is guilty unless they prove they are innocent. And as they are guilty they have their rights systematically stripped away. Until they are unable to leave campus or have their birthday cake taken away from them. This is done so encourage the accused party to appear and follow the rules of the “court.” The Mockingbirds says this is all ok though because if the accused is found innocent then everything that he or she lost gets restored to them afterwards with a few extras to boot. Which is a little too little too late in my book.
Which leads me to the need for the Mockingbirds in the first place. They aren’t a group formed by the school, they are a secret society that was formed because the school never seems to notice the bad things that happen. It is very clear from reading this book that Daisy Whitney has no love of privatized institutions. There was a total lack of interest from teachers in this book. As long as the students….or “puppets” as Alex liked to refer to the teachers thoughts on students…so as long as the students preformed well on demand then they were happy. There were many complaints in Alex’s inner monologue about her disgust for the adults at her school and many times in which that voice didn’t seem like a teen. I’ve had several friends who attended a boarding school and each always said just how involved the adults were with the students. That many times they acted as surrogate parents. Its usually not until college that teachers and students have that separation. And I think that Whitney was taking her own college experiences and trying to force them into a more young adult sort of setting. The result are situations that just don’t ring true.
The one time that Alex actually trusts an adult much of the conversation is how she was drinking that night, and how as she’s underage it was so wrong for her to drink, that she hasn’t had a drink since and probably won’t drink again. With the adult saying what a wise and mature choice that was since drinking underage is never wise. She then says that Alex must do what she thinks is right and if she doesn’t want to report the incident then that is perfectly fine. What adult would say that? What teacher when hearing that a student had been raped would just sit there and do nothing? Not to mention that one of the reasons that Alex said she didn’t want to report the rape was because her parents would pull her out of Themis and send her to a different school. Again this book just lacked a sense of reality and believability.
Another thing that never felt real was the dialogue. It was always so stilted and disjointed and told woodenly by characters that never came to life for me. The only one I ever felt anything for was Alex and that was more annoyance than anything else as I was stuck having to listen to her inner monologue for the entire book. I think that this may have been a story that was told better using multiple points of view. The Mockingbirds wasn’t all bad though I did think that the flashback scenes were done well. They were believable (although that wasn’t always the case for the triggers) and made you really feel for what happened to Alex. I would have liked to have had them appear with a quicker frequency though then they did. If they had then there would have been less need for Alex to be told what had happened to her.
I managed to finish The Mockingbirds but it was a struggle of will. Normally this would have been a book that would land on the Did Not Finish pile. The only thing that really kept me reading was that The Mockingbirds was part of The Contemps Challenge. That and the few people that I talked with as I read told me to keep reading as it got better. Sadly, it just was never meant to be. I should be clear though the issues that I have with this book have nothing to do with Alex being raped. I felt for her because she went through that. My issues were all the details that occurred after that event. Especially the Mockingbirds. I do not like their sense of “justice”and as a result I find that this is not a book that I can recommend.