The Mockingbirds & The Rivals

11 May

Daisy Whitney’s The Mockingbirds was the best book I read last year. Not the best YA book; the best book, period. The plot centers on the musically gifted Alex, for all intents and purposes a “good girl,” who is date-raped by a fellow student while passed out and the underground student-led justice system that leads her to redemption. A story about courage, justice that transcends age, race and even, gender, I bought a copy for my parents, both sisters and my best friend. “You have to read this book,” I advocated to anyone who would listen. When I received a copy of the follow up book The Rivals (Thanks, Em!) I was hesitant to read it thinking, “No way this will be as interesting as the first one?”

Oh, Alicia. How dare you?

The Rivals picks up right where The Mockingbirds left off: the elite Themis Academy on the brink of another school year. Alex is a senior and has been appointed leader of The Mockingbirds – a position she is not sure she’s ready for. Days before the semester begins, Alex is tipped off to a case unlike any other – one that threatens to affect her future, her relationships and the entire student body.

What I love about both these books is Whitney’s accurate yet empathic reflection of the teenage experience and more specifically, the hurts and haunts that are often known only to girls. Rape is especially controversial subject matter and often I find myself frustrated that so many young adult novels with female protagonists center on some type of sexual assault. But the truth is this is fiction inspired by reality – an all too common reality – and Whitney’s prose and characters never come off as preachy or “representative” of culture. They feel real. In fact, they are real. More importantly, the creation of a vigilante justice system organized by a high school girl to protect another girl who was being bullied by other girls is a bold idea to imprint on readers.

In The Mockingbirds Alex admits that she was a bystander in her life – not a girl who takes action, who gets involved. In The Rivals she is still healing from the previous year and still dealing with the backlash of her actions (read: telling the truth and standing up for herself). Surprisingly though, Alex never feels like a victim. Whitney has usurped the victimhood and instead, reminiscent of Alice Sebold’s memoir Lucky, given Alex agency and power. While you relate to her fears, her pain, her doubts, you always have a stronger sense of her resilience, her perseverance and her innate sense of justice.

Furthermore, Alex is supported by a litany of diverse and active female characters: her older sister, her two roommates, her piano teacher and The Mockingbirds previous leader, Amy. When Alex is struggling with her memories of her rape and undermining her ability to lead, it is Amy who reminds her, “Twenty years from now, you’ll still remember what it felt like to be exposed. And you’ll remember too what it felt like to take a stand. You’ll probably remember that more.”

And that, my friends, is what we call revolution.

Alicia’s rating (The Mockingbirds): 5 out of 5 stars
Alicia’s rating (The Rivals): 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Daisy Whitney
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (Nov 2010 & Feb 2012)

3 Responses to “The Mockingbirds & The Rivals”

  1. capillya 11. May, 2012 at 2:30 pm #

    Yes! Revolution! I love how Whitney writes with such purpose, and loved both of these books! Glad you did too!

  2. VeganYANerds 13. May, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

    Great review, Alicia (and welcome to the blog, I think!)

    I had no idea what these books were about, I just knew I wanted to read them. Thanks to your review, I now want to read them even more! xox

  3. Em 14. May, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    I loved The Mockingbirds too! (still have to read The Rivals)

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