Celebrate Harper Lee and (love it or hate it) the release of GO SET A WATCHMAN by reading a YA novel connected with
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD in many brilliant ways!
This review was first posted on A Backwards Story on December 15, 2010.
[During my first year of blogging, so forgive the difference in writing tone!]
The paragraph about the sequel is from my May 9, 2012 review of THE RIVALS.
The final paragraph is brand-new! ❤
Some schools have honor codes.
Others have handbooks.
Themis Academy has the Mockingbirds.
Debut author Daisy Whitney doesn't hold back the punches when it comes to THE MOCKINGBIRDS. Hard-hitting and honest, this is easily one of the best teen novels of the year . The book takes its name from Harper Lee's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and is heavily influenced by the classic. That alone = made of win.
The book is named after a group of students at Themis Academy who call themselves The Mockingbirds. The group is sort of like a secret society. Most students don't know who is in it, only that The Mockingbirds exist. The group is in charge of the school's justice system and making sure that students honor the Code of Conduct because the teachers think the students are perfect and can do no wrong. They have an elaborate trial and jury system and have molded themselves using context from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. For example, when they are accepting applications for new recruits, they make several allusions to the novel:
Join the Mockingbirds! Stand up, sing out! We're scouting new singers, so run, run, run on your way to our New Nine, where you can learn a simple trick...
(Did you get all of them?)
When a case is about to go to trial, they hang gum in tin foil from the trees in the quad, which represents the first thing Boo Radley left in the Knothole for Scout and Jem. There's even a very specific use for a physical copy of Harper Lee's tome. Whitney weaves the classic into her novel in an interesting way that always had me smiling.
The book itself deals with some hard themes. THE MOCKINGBIRDS is centered around a girl named Alex who goes out with some friends, drinks a little too much, and wakes up next to a boy she doesn't know. She later comes to terms with the fact that she was date raped; the book focuses on the fact that such a thing can still occur when someone is asleep and/or unconscious. In the Afterword, Whitney mentions that she herself was once date-raped, which was one of the reasons she wrote this novel. Because she'd experienced it herself, what Alex goes through feels emotional and real, but never trite. I once had a writing professor who stated that there are a few topics that most writers have trouble tackling. Rape was one of those issues. Whitney handles the topic realistically in a way that endears Alex to readers.
The novel is self-contained, but Whitney has written a second book entitled THE RIVALS. You can check out my review here! If you're the type of person who doesn't like sequels, you can still read this book and not worry about an open ending. THE RIVALS is one of those sequels that meets or exceeds expectations, which is even rarer when considering how amazing the first book was. I loved going back to Themis Academy and reuniting with beloved characters. Alex is still dealing with the fallout from the first book, where she was date-raped and had to go to the Mockingbirds for help. Because she had been a victim, she was chosen as the leader of the Mockingbirds for the start of the new school year, but not everyone at Themis thinks she deserves the position...or that she was ever a victim in the first place. THE RIVALS excels in looking at Alex recover from events that destroyed her as she slowly begins to heal and move on in life, though she'll never be quite the same again. Whitney handles this realistically, and readers really care about Alex and her plight. Too many authors would have just had Alex put all her baggage on the back burner and move on, happy again with life. Whitney doesn't hold back the punches and Alex realistically has to re-adjust to life and find her way all over again.
If you love books that co-exist with other books (or movies or video games or retellings or whatever), you'll really love THE MOCKINGBIRDS. I adore all of the references pointing towards TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and smiled every time I found another Easter Egg. Knowing the classic Harper Lee novel made reading this more fun, but I still would have enjoyed it on its own! That extra pow brought the book to a new level, though, and I especially recommend reading the book this month to celebrate Harper Lee as she releases GO SET A WATCHMAN.