Interview with Daisy Whitney, author of the young adult novel, “The Mockingbirds” (with an excerpt)

by Leah on November 3, 2010

daisywhitneyWe are thrilled to bring you an excerpt from Daisy Whitney’s young adult novel The Mockingbirds (reprinted with permission from her publisher, Little Brown), as well as an interview following the excerpt.

Daisy Whitney is a new media producer, reporter, and internationally-known Web show creator. The Mockingbirds is her first novel. A graduate of Brown University, Daisy lives in San Francisco with her family.

In The Mockingbirds, Alex, an overachieving high school junior at a boarding school, is date-raped after getting drunk at a party. 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.

The following is an excerpt from the book:

“I have this dream sometimes, only it’s not really a dream. I’m awake and imagining. And in the waking dream, I’m in the cramped lavatory of an airplane. I wash my hands with the liquid soap, smelling faintly of lemongrass, or at least what the manufacturer thinks is lemongrass, but it’s really just some industrial substitute scent. The skin on my hands is dry and flaky afterward, but that happens on airplanes. They suck the moisture out of you.

Anyway, I turn to the door and push the lock to the side. I try to unlock the door, but I can’t. I keep pushing, jamming harder to slide the lock over, but the door never opens and I’m stuck there in the airplane bathroom, surrounded by stale air and industrial soap scents, and my face grows hotter and my fear grows higher and all I want is out, out, out.

I always thought if I were raped I would feel that way. Or maybe that way magnified times ten, twenty, one hundred. I’ve thought about rape before. I pictured it happening to me. A dark alley, some rough guy I don’t know who’s five times my size grabs me and forces me to my knees, a knife to my throat. Sometimes I’d picture it happening in my house while everyone was asleep. He’d come in through my window and hover above me. I’d be startled awake, pinned down in my own bed, everything I know that’s right in the world ripped out of my chest.

themockingbirds

That is rape.

I know rape is something else too. It’s just I always thought of it in a very specific way—with a very specific kind of attacker—not in a way I’d have to defend, not in a way where I’d have to preface everything with ‘I was drunk, really drunk.’”

Drinking Diaries: How did you come to write The Mockingbirds? Was it planned as a novel for young adults?

Daisy Whitney: Yes, The Mockingbirds was always intended for a young adult audience because it addresses an issue — date rape — that is quite prevalent among teens.

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), 1 in 6 women will be a victim of sexual assault during her lifetime and girls ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. Also, half of the reported date rapes occur among teenagers, according to the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

In terms of why I chose the subject matter of date rape–that was a very deliberate decision because I was date raped my freshman year of college. It’s twenty years later and I am very much healed, but the experience is still profound. I successfully pressed charges in my university’s disciplinary system and that experience of standing up and speaking out contributed greatly to my own ability to move forward.

But speaking out is very challenging and that’s why I wanted to show that speaking up for yourself can occur in many different ways, including with one’s peers. While adults want to believe a teen would come to them for help, teens are more likely to turn to a peer.

According to a study conducted by The Northern Westchester Shelter, with Pace Women’s Justice Center, about 83% of 10th graders said they would sooner turn to a friend for help with dating abuse than a teacher, counselor, parent or other caring adult.

Drinking Diaries: Alex, the main character in your novel struggles with feelings of shame, because she was drunk when the date rape occurred. There are some amazing passages in the book, where Alex tries to work through these feelings of shame, and she’s helped by her friends and her sister. What are your thoughts on women and drinking and sexuality and shame?

Sexuality is such a complicated topic for women and there are so many ways as women that we can beat ourselves up about when it comes to sex. But at the end of the day, I believe so strongly in choice and in making a choice about how to live our lives.

As it relates to drinking, I think women should set rules for themselves and guidelines — if they are going to drink, they should be with friends they trust. I also think girls and women need to know that they are the ONLY ones who make decisions about their bodies and if someone takes advantage of them they can speak up whether by talking to a friend, a counselor, a therapist, a relative, etc.

Drinking Diaries: Do you have any thoughts on why drinking is so loaded for women, but not as much for men? For example, in The Mockingbirds, the guy involved in the assault was drinking heavily, too, but he seemed unapologetic, while the main character was wracked with self doubt.

I don’t think the assailant’s reaction had as much to do with drinking or not as it had to do with his core personality and callousness.

I think drinking is loaded for women because so many things are more loaded for women! Alex struggled with guilt and shame because that’s–sadly–typical for date rape victims. Date rape survivors are often wracked with guilt over whether they could have stopped the crime. Drinking or not plays into these questions and fears.

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