Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney and other novels about date rape

bedroom window: ice crystals at sunrise

On the first page of The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney (2010), the main character wakes up naked in bed with a boy she barely knows at her boarding school. There are two condom wrappers in the trash can, but Alex has no memory of losing her virginity. Carter is not aware that it was rape because Alex came to his dorm room willingly and never said no. However, she was too drunk to consent. Alex is too ashamed to ask adults for help. Luckily a secret student organization, called The Mockingbirds after Harper Lee’s novel, is there to aid victims of abuse.

While preparing for the student-run trial, Alex has a consensual relationship with Martin, a member of the Mockingbirds. He won’t even touch her without asking permission. At times Martin’s mature behavior sounded too good to be true, but all boys should aspire to that level of sensitivity. Their romance is beautifully portrayed and balances the painful flashbacks that are interspersed throughout the narrative.

The Mockingbirds should be required for high school Sex Education classes because it models both good and bad behavior and shows how victims can be supported by their peers. This educational novel still avoids sounding pedantic, probably because the author brings emotional truth to the moving narrative. The books's fictional system of peer justice was modeled on one at Brown University, where the author brought forth her own date rape case in 1990. I cried reading the Author's Note. The college students I knew who were date raped in the late 1980’s had no recourse for justice without witnesses. Times have changed.

My only criticism is that the story might have been more believable had it been set in 1990 rather than now. It’s hard to imagine administrators at a prestigious boarding school these days turning a blind eye to bullying and to date rape. Also the musical references were more the taste of my generation. Still, the well-developed characters, fine writing and accessible voice will appeal to teens today.

Another excellent book on date rape is Speak (1999) by Laurie Halse Anderson. Unlike Alex, Melinda suffers her humiliation in silence until she finds her voice. Humor and fine writing makes Speak easy to read. Anderson wrote the book for 12-15 year olds because many date rape victims are in that age group. Anderson followed up with Twisted (2007) about a boy falsely accused of sexual harassment, the other side of the coin.

I strongly recommend all three books to teenagers and to the adults who care for them. Congratulations to Daisy Whitney for an impressive debut novel!

Disclosure: I bought all three books myself.

January in Maine:

Last Wednesday a blizzard dumped 18 inches; that was a Snow Day. Then yesterday morning it started snowing before shifting to rain overnight. Another 2 inches are due today.

School has not been cancelled. The roads are plowed and our driveway was cleared by morning. We lift shovels instead of weights.

I look out the window (left) and turn back to a white page to write. For a break, I carve more lines with my skis. You have to love winter sports and reading by the fire to live in Maine.


tina said...

Winters in Maine can sure be something! It's beautiful but thank goodness for toasty fires and books!

Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...

Hello Sarah

Love both of your pictures.

We got about 7 to 8 inches of snow last week and then the ice came. Now the weather is in the 50's this week!

Take-Care and stay warm!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Goodness, your snow makes our snow look wimpy.
Fascinating book review, too!

TBM said...

What a gorgeous shot of ice crystals! I can't believe you all go about your daily business in all that snow and ice.

PS Glad to hear you like your Kindle. I love mine--I've had it about a year and a half. I buy "paperbacks" as ebooks. Any book that I think someone else in the household will want to read gets purchased as a "real" book :-)

Sarah Laurence said...

Tina, looks like you’re a Maine winter followed you south this year.

Tracy, it must be a relief to get the thaw. It is in the 40s today even in Maine.

Pamela, this is normal for Maine. It’s harder getting snow in a place that doesn’t know how to deal with snow and ice.

JAPRA, one foot of snow in Maine is easier than an inch of snow in England. We are prepared. Thanks for sharing your Kindle experience – that sounds like a good strategy. I like the new lending feature on the Kindle in case another family member or friend gets one too.

Bee said...

I know it has a massive downside, but if you have to have winter, I'd rather have this glorious snow than our gray gloom.

I will definitely buy Mockingbirds for you know who - (funnily enough, I just read To Kill a Mockinbird). I agree with you about the boarding school, though.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Oh, those ice crystals are stunning. That's a gorgeous photo.
Thanks for spotlighting those important books. Too many girls have suffered alone after date rape.

A Cuban In London said...

It's a very sensitive issue to write about and yet, judging by your well-written review, the author pulled it off.

What also appealed to me is that apparently the Martin character offers a good counterbalance to all the stories about how teenagers are awful. I have included the title in my books' wishlist because my son just turned thirteen and I would like him to start reading (in a few years' time, not now, of course!) about subjects like this.

I disagree with you slightly on schools' attitude to date rape and bullying. Whilst it might not be rife and certainly some institutions do respond well to these transgressions, there are still far too many cases where the victims are... well... victimised even more by their educational establishments.

Many thanks for the review and recommendation. So, you've got the snow 'disease' now! Well, I hope everyone's safe over there.

Greetings from London.

Sarah Laurence said...

Bee, yes, I do prefer a snowy winter to a gray one, but I wish ours wasn’t so long. The Mockingbirds is definitely good one for I-know-who to read.

Tricia, teen friendly novels are a good way for an embarrassed teen to get guidance.

ACIL, I’d pass this book to your son next year if you think he’s ready. You’d be amazed by how much earlier sexual experimentation starts now. The material is handled sensitively enough for younger teens, but you might want to read it first yourself. My 16-year-old son doesn’t read YA, so I just had a talk with him about consent. These days not saying yes is the same as no, and the blame can end up on the boy if he doesn’t ask permission first.

I recommended that this book be assigned for Sex Ed because it’s the teen boys who need to read The Mockingbirds the most and they probably wouldn’t read a book with a female protagonist about date rape given a choice. Even adults avoid this topic: there are fewer comments on this post than usual. The material makes us uncomfortable but should still be discussed. The book itself is very accessible.

As for snow, I love it! It’s ice and slush that I dislike. Our winters are too long but they are wonderfully snowy, often with bright blue skies between storms like today.

Rose said...

I first became aware of "Speak" when a few of my students read it for an independent reading project in my class. They gave it high marks; "The Mockingbirds" sounds like another novel on this relevant issue that teens would enjoy.

I see that you have finally gotten your wish for snow, although maybe more than you wished for!

troutbirder said...

Living in a conservative rural community for these many years, I taught 17/18 year olds for 25, then 12/13 year olds for another ten. Age appropriate was the issue later.

Peggy said...

Great post! I love winter and have always been drawn to the harshness and beauty of Maine in the snow. Great thought about lifting shovels instead of weights! Living in West Michigan we, too, know how to handle snow events without major disruption. But, oh, how lovely is a snow day!

walk2write said...

When sex ed was started back in the 70s, I couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. My parents had fairly liberal views about education so they didn't object. And we had separate lectures for the boys and the girls so there wasn't too much of an embarrassment factor. An open discussion about the dangerous aspects of sex--like date rape--is key to avoiding them. I'm glad there are authors willing to take on the challenge. Thanks for posting this, Sarah.

Kelly H-Y said...

Powerful reviews ... thank you.
Gorgeous picture ... I think it sounds lovely!

Hana Njau-Okolo said...

We signed a consent form to allow our sixth grader to participate in the Health/Sex Education class focusing on HIV/Aids. The curriculum provides narrow examples for a broad subject - we are in the Bible Belt, after all. I want my son to be fully aware. I am curious to find out whether The Mockingbirds will ever be approved for the shelves at our local library. I will purchase a copy for my son, and pass it on to his cousins and close friends. The stories he recounts of the goings on - on the school bus, etc. - indicates clearly how early our children being experimentation, or become aware. (Did you see that horrific report just yesterday on MSNBC of second graders in Oakland, Ca. engaging in sex acts?)

My son's middle school's Sex Ed-HIV/Aids curriculum emphasizes self-denial or abstention, which I find unrealistic.

Thanks for the review. And your "ice crystals at sunrise" image takes my breath: it startles me to view the patterns you captured, and reminds me of the beauty and comfort to be found in mother nature's repeating patterns.

Shaista said...

Have you seen the movie adaptation of 'Speak'? It has Kristen Stewart in it (of Twilight fame).. it was special, tenderly made. I'd recommend it.

How are you enjoying the kindle? I just finished reading 'Water for Elephants', and before that I read 'Never Let me Go'. I'm going a little crazy trying to decided on kindle cases, so your article about them was really helpful...
I feel like we're leading parallel lives except obviously for the crazy snow, and the winter sports :)

Amanda Summer said...

the authors of these books are doing more than telling a story, they are doing a public service as well as possibly gaining real healing for themselves. fascinating to see that such subject matter is out there in ya fiction -- but then again, why not?

school not cancelled because of 18 inches of snow? and why would it be --- after all, you're from maine!!

(hehe, as said by one who grew up in equally staunch and stoic minnesota)

☆sapphire said...

Thanks for your nice reviews and posting about the delicate issue.
In my counry as far as I can rememer, date rape has rarely been prosecuted as a criminal case, probably because victims want to keep it under wraps. I'm very interested to know about their healing process.

Your "ice crystals at sunrise" is amazing! It looks much colder in Maine. Enjoy beautiful snow and take care, Sarah.

Sarah Laurence said...

Rose, good to hear that Speak is in classrooms and appreciated. Yes, there must be 3 feet of snow in our yard. More is falling now. I’m actually enjoying it. The skiing is fabulous, and it’s so pretty.

Troutbirder, The Mockingbirds would definitely be appropriate for high school students, and I’d recommend it to 8th graders who are transitioning soon. Speak is geared for a slightly younger audience and is less sexually explicit. Both books handle the sensitive material well without being salacious. Still, Speak has been banned in some communities. As if the problem of date rape will vanish if we ignore it. Not! I wish you were still teaching.

Peggy, welcome to my blog and thank you! It’s nice to connect with another snow and book lover. I enjoyed your blog too.

W2W, thanks for sharing your views on sex ed and the importance of books like these.

Kelly, thanks!

Mama Shujaa, it’s good that your schools starts the sex ed discussion early, but it’s a shame that the scope is narrow and unrealistic. I’m also curious to see if The Mockingbirds will be banned like Speak in conservative communities. I hope not. I’m happy to hear that you will be one step ahead of the censors. That news story was shocking: oral sex in 2nd grade?! The beauty of nature balances the ugliness in the world. Thank you!

Shaista, I haven’t seen the movie of Speak. I’ll rent it to watch with my daughter. Thanks for telling us about it. I am enjoying my Kindle very much but still prefer the touch of a real book and knowing where I am in it by feel. I’ve read Water for Elephants too and enjoyed it. We do have similar reading tastes, and this year you got some snow too in England.

Amanda, you’d be surprised by how daring YA fiction has become, very cutting edge. That’s part of the fun of reading it. Our schools shut if there isn’t time to clear away snow by the morning or if there is a travel advisory and parking ban. Our schools have shut for 18 inch storms but not for the 10 inches that fell after school and ended by midnight. The Minnesota winter is even harsher, so I hear.

Sapphire, that was really interesting to hear about date rape cases in Japan. In the US I believe that date rape cases tend to be handled internally by the schools, but with evidence you could take it to juvenile court. Yep, it’s cold but beautiful. More about that in tomorrow’s post.

Susan R. Mills said...

That snow looks familiar. We've had lots of days like that this winter. And I agree, all three of those books are excellent.