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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Review: 'The Mockingbirds'

YA Fiction
November 2010
Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 978-0-316-09053-7

Alex Patrick is a busy junior at an exclusive Providence, R.I., boarding school. But studies, her spring project, even her beloved music, take second place to the aftermath of her date rape by a fellow student. When she tells a roomate, the school's underground student justice system takes over.

The system is run by the Mockingbirds, a group founded by Alex's older sister when she was a student there. Although Casey told Alex about it, there weren't details. Because the school is an exclusive one, administrators and teachers tend to believe the students all act honorably (there is one setpiece that shows brilliantly how easily the grownups can misinterpret what's going on). The times that does not happen, the students take care of matters themselves. They are named for the Mockingbird that it is a sin to kill in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and there are references to characters in that masterpiece throughout the story.

The Mockingbirds begins with Alex waking up in a stranger's bed, unable to remember how she got there. It's intense and frankly written. Although parts of the night come back to her, these harrowing flashbacks are designed to be only a part of the story. The idea that teenagers realize adults don't pay attention to everything about them -- including some very important things -- and can take care of matters responsibly, is just as important to the narrative.

Carter, the boy who raped Alex, brags about his conquest and doesn't understand why she doesn't want to have sex with him again. When she files charges through the Mockingbirds against him, Carter lashes out. Also involved in the story are Alex's two roommates; Martin, the boy she was starting to like before the rape; other girls who come forward with their own stories; a sympathetic teacher; students who don't see taking the law into their own hands in the same way; and other leaders of the Mockingbirds. Their roles contribute to an understanding of what it's like for a rape victim trying to recover from the trauma and how others may react to a rape victim, from blaming her to unconditional support. The various stages of a victim's recovery and how different people cope with being raped is portrayed honestly. There is a great deal of important knowledge that is portrayed openly through these characters, including the trial scenes.

The novel is an accessible read even though it relies to a small extent on knowledge of the Lee novel. The main character's love of music is woven into the narrative but occasionally seems one layer too many. The concept of overachieving, self-reliant students is handled well; there is a calm, quiet tone to the novel that keeps the focus on doing something about the injustice rather than dwelling on it.

©2011 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission

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