books and reading · reviews

Book Review: The Rivals by Daisy Whitney

Last year, when Alex was raped by another student, her board school turned a blind eye.  Alex had to turn to the Mockingbirds, a secret society of students who police the student body because the staff refuses to.  Now Alex is the had of the Mockingbirds, and it’s her turn to take charge and right wrongs.  The problem is that this year’s case is different from what the tribunal is used to.  How do you prove guilt when there isn’t a clear-cut victim?  How far do you take something, even if it means jeopardizing relationships with those closest to you?

Although readers don’t technically have to read Whitney’s debut in order to follow the characters and plots present in this sequel, it certainly helps.  Having a sense of who Alex was last year, during her own rape trial, and who stood behind her and what it all meant will help add meaning to this convoluted mystery.  (This reader will admit to wishing for a little more review of what had happened in the previous book.)  That being said, the story moves along quickly enough that new readers should enjoy the twisty story.

Readers familiar with the Mockingbirds at Themis Academy will be surprised to find many changes afoot in this follow up.  While The Mockingbirds illustrated the group’s policies and procedures as a streamlined set of guidelines full of checks and balances, Alex really fumbles in this one.  Whitney provides a lot of ethical questions, and thankfully doesn’t attempt to answer all of them.

Also well done is the way that Alex’s rape stigma follows her around throughout this novel as well.  It is believable and authentic.  The reactions of characters around Alex help to add a realness to the novel that might otherwise be lacking.

That brings me to the biggest sticking point and the piece I find hardest to swallow: despite its entertaining qualities, the book’s main premise smacks of unreality.  The fact that the school’s administration turns such a blind eye to all student infractions never feels authentic.  Are we to believe that they really aren’t afraid of legal ramifications?  Really?

Despite all this, this is a fast-paced read that fans of twisting mysteries should gobble up.  This one doesn’t have staying power, though.  It fades from memory pretty quickly.

The Rivals by Daisy Whitney. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: 2012. Library copy. Read for 2012 Cybils Round 1 Panel.

 

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