Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Mockingbirds

I just finished the most remarkable YA novel: The Mockingbirds, by Daisy Whitney. Alex hooked up with this boy--"What's his name? Remember, Goddamn it, remember. Carver. . . . No, it's Carter. Definitely Carter."

And she slowly--with the help of her friends and sister--comes to the realization that he date-raped her. She knows her fancy boarding school won't do anything about it--the administration "totally ignores everything because [it] ... destroys their notion of who Themis students are--of who they're educating to be future leaders of the world and all that stuff." But her older sister, when she was a student at Themis, started The Mockingbirds, an underground society made up of students, that administers justice in situations like Alex's. If you bring someone before the Mockingbirds, and they are found guilty, they have to give up what is most important to them. The quarterback quits the football team, theater kids have to stop being involved in theater, that kind of thing. Alex's rapist will have to quit playing water polo.

One thing I love about this book is how much it foregrounds the students, and their willingness and ability to step up and take care of each other when the adults refuse to acknowledge what's going on. But Alex does have one good teacher, who gives the author, herself a victim of date rape, the opportunity to have someone in her novel say things like:

"You don't have to have been fighting him off the whole time for it to be date rape. You don't have to have been saying no the entire time, either. In fact, it doesn't even matter if you were having the time of your life, Alex," she says, her words precise, like individual slices of certainty. "What he did to you was nonconsensual, and it doesn't suddenly become consensual because for one moment you put your hands on his back. That one moment doesn't wipe the slate clean and make you sober. You were drunk. And you said no. That's why it's date rape."

So yeah, at some moments it might get a little preachy. But the above is spoken by a teacher, who's allowed to and even supposed to be preachy. I'm just glad this book exists. It presents a messy situation and a protagonist who feels guilty about her own behavior--she was drunk, for one thing--but it is clear about labeling the situation as what it was: rape. And the protagonist gets to have a boyfriend! Her life isn't over after she's raped!

I also love the narrator's thoughts about everything after the "trial," which ring so true for many essential battles we fight in high school and college and throughout life:
...Justice doesn't . . . erase what happened. It doesn't make you who you were before. I'm becoming someone else--someone else I'm figuring out how to be.

I wonder briefly why I went through it, why it was worth it. Because in some ways, nothing changed. This is just how it goes, this is how it feels to take a stand. It feels like life, like chocolate cake, like just another average school night; it feels like wanting to be alone. You don't parade in the streets, you don't dance on the grave. You sit on the steps and you watch the school go by and the moon rise higher in the sky and it feels like...

Like normal, actually. It feels like normal.

I want normal. I like normal. I did this for normal.

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