*possible trigger warning: discussion of rape in a YA novel
The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney was the last book I read in 2010. Overall, it was an engaging read and contained the most thorough and socially responsible commentary on rape that I’ve come across in a young adult novel (or any novel, really.)
Themis is an elite boarding school in New England where every student excels at something, be it math or water polo or debate team. The administration believes its students to be perfect, above harrasment or hate-crime which means that even serious transgressions are ignored or glossed over, and the students do not feel protected. This is where the semi-secret student-run organization, The Mockingbirds steps in, doling out justice when the administration falls short.
When piano prodigy Alex wakes up naked in a boy’s bed with little memory of the night before, she knows something has gone very wrong, and she soon realizes that she was raped. Unsure of her options, she goes to The Mockingbirds for help.
I read this book in one day, and I’m not normally a speed reader. There was a great sense of forward momentum and a lot of likable (as well as utterly detestable) characters. Not only was the rape handled with sensitivity and complexity, but the narrative really hammered home the true definition of consent. When I read the following passage, I wanted to stand up and cheer:
If a person does not say “no” that does not mean he or she said “yes.” Silence does not equal consent. Silence could mean fear, confusion, inebriation. The only thing that means yes is yes. A lack of yes is a no.
At first, I was a little troubled that this form of underground student justice was sought out in the narrative as though it was the only viable option, because I believe rapists should serve jail time (obviously) and at the very least be expelled because no woman should have to worry about crossing paths with her rapist on the way to chem lab. But it is ultimately the survivor’s decision, and in a climate like the one at Themis (which I imagine is similar to many other upper-tier schools and universities) where so many students felt unprotected by ineffectual administration, it may have felt like the best course of action.
Ultimately, I really enjoyed this book, and I’m thrilled at the thought that it may end up in the hands of teenagers who have never been told that the only thing that means yes is yes, and anything short of that is rape.
(originally posted at meganbytheminute)