Sarah Samel ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
“What if no one can protect us? What if the school can’t help us? Can we help ourselves? Can we do the right thing?” – Daisy Whitney in her author’s note.
Daisy Whitney graduated from Brown University and lives in San Francisco with her husband, two kids, and two dogs. She writes young adult fiction, and her works include: The Mockingbirds, its sequel The Rivals, When You Were Here and Starry Nights. When she is not writing creatively, Whitney is writing about new media, TV, and advertising to a variety of publication and news outlets (http://daisywhitney.blogspot.com).
While a freshman undergrad at Brown University, Daisy Whitney was date-raped by another student. She chose to press charges with the University Disciplinary Committee. Her case was one of the first date-rape cases Brown actually acknowledged; Whitney states, in her author’s note, that a lot of colleges and universities were overlooking and refusing to try date-rape cases, and her story inspired several young women to speak up.
Her first novel, The Mockingbirds, deals with a character in a similar situation: Alexandra Patrick is date-raped after drinking at a party. She wakes up in a strange room, in bed with a boy she cannot remember the name of. Slowly, details begin to come back to her, and she is hesitant to speak up. But when she hears that her rapist is spreading rumors that she “was begging for it,” she makes the decision not to remain silent. Since her elite boarding school, Themis Academy, refuses to do anything about it, she enlists the aid of The Mockingbirds, an underground vigilante student group dedicated to doing what the faculty and committee will not do: correcting students’ wrongs. The book follows Alex’s coming to grips with what she went through, along with artfully interweaving the mechanics of this underground justice system.
In several ways, The Mockingbirds is very much like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, another young adult novel in which a girl is raped. But while Speak was widely recognized and used in classrooms, The Mockingbirds has gone fairly unnoticed. It has not made the bestseller list, and has not been featured in many major news outlets. Because rape and domestic violence have circulated so much in the YA genre, people who pick up The Mockingbirds are more likely to think of it as another “issues” book. Thus, many young adult readers have never heard of The Mockingbirds, and those who have sort of brush it aside and add it to their ever-increasing “to-read” list. While the topic is triggering and heavy, and there are some plot holes, The Mockingbirds deserves a lot more recognition than it is receiving at the moment, and so does Daisy Whitney.
Whitney, like many young adult authors, chooses to focus on tough subjects: The Rivals covers a drug trafficking ring within the same school as The Mockingbirds, and When You Were Here deals with a boy discovering more about the end of his mother’s life after she lost the battle to cancer. These may seem like standard “teen problem” books, but they are written in such a way that makes them unique. Whitney’s writing style puts the reader right there with the characters, and has the reader shadowing the narrator as the story unfolds. Her depiction of emotion is raw and explicit without using clichés; the reader feels what the narrator is feeling: confusion, sadness, terror, anger, mistrust, hurt, etc. Whitney really drove home the point that rape does not have to take place in a dark alley at gunpoint. There are more nuanced areas, and sometimes it is difficult for survivors not to blame themselves. The reader sees closely Alex’s struggle not to blame herself, and ultimately, her fight to stand up for herself because she believes she is worth it. Whitney has the kind of writing style that pulls readers out of themselves and plants them right into the eyes of her characters. That is a talent that few authors have, and a talent that should be recognized.