Some schools have honor codes.
Others have handbooks.
Themis Academy has the Mockingbirds.
Themis Academy is a quiet boarding school with an exceptional student body that the administration trusts to always behave the honorable way—the Themis Way. So when Alex is date raped during her junior year, she has two options: stay silent and hope someone helps her, or enlist the Mockingbirds—a secret society of students dedicated to righting the wrongs of their fellow peers.
In this honest, page-turning account of a teen girl's struggle to stand up for herself, debut author Daisy Whitney reminds readers that if you love something or someone—especially yourself—you fight for it.
As the description explains, Alex is raped by another student during an evening hanging out with friends. For a time, she recollects little of what happened, but one thing she does know—he took her virginity against her will. Alex struggles with this not knowing and with trying to figure out if what transpired that night was rape. Thankfully, she has people close to her who make it abundantly clear: it was rape. I felt Whitney created a very real portrayal of someone trying to cope in the aftermath of such a horrific act—the denial, the fear, the shame, the feelings of powerlessness. She also surrounded Alex with a great group of friends and advocates which, sadly, is not something that all victims of sexual assault are fortunate enough to have.
I've rewritten this paragraph a number of times, because I really don't want to say the wrong thing. I'm not going to lie, I didn't find the rapist's sentence to be enough, and at times the proceedings felt a bit like a mock trial. And I couldn't help wishing this was brought before the authorities, whether those at Themis Academy or those of the legal variety. It was proposed, but Alex quashed the idea and it really didn't come up again. Since Themis' administration was hell-bent on maintaining a certain reputation, Alex and the Mockingbirds felt this was something they would just sweep under the carpet. (Unfortunately, turning a blind eye happens all the time in reality. Case in point: Penn State.) So I guess my frustration is more with a system that time and time again fails victims of sexual assault, to the extent that these students resorted to taking matters into their own hands. While I wasn't 100% satisfied with the rapist's sentence I suppose this is reflective of real life. Just look at the Steubenville verdict and its insufficiency when you consider what that young girl lost. I do think it's important to point out that this trial was Alex's choice and that's a pretty crucial thing to give back to her when choice is what was taken from her in the first place.
I really appreciated how clearly Whitney laid out what does and does not constitute consent:
"Sexual assault is sexual contact (not just intercourse) where one of the the parties has not given or cannot give active verbal consent, i.e., uttered a clear "yes" to the action. 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 a yes. A lack of yes is a no." (p. 268)I will definitely be using this when I talk with my (as yet, non-existent) kids one day. All in all, I think The Mockingbirds is an important read. Whitney's examination of consent, sexual assault, and the struggles of those forced to cope in its aftermath is both thought-provoking and honest.
In light of everything that happened in Steubenville and even in this stunning case out of Ottawa, our nation's capital, it is imperative that this discussion continues to happen. When I hear about these kinds of cases, I start to lose faith in humanity, but then I see something like this video below, and it's restored even just a little bit:
Other books that deal with sexual assault*:
• Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
• Canary by Rachele Alpine (due out August 1, 2013)
• Rape Girl by Alina Klein
• Fault Line by Christa Desir (due out November 12, 2013)
• What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton
I'm sure there are others, so feel free to mention them in your comments.
* N.B. I haven't yet read these books, but I thought I would compile a list nonetheless.