Thursday, April 19, 2012
The Rivals by Daisy Whitney
February 6, 2012; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
When Alex Patrick was assaulted by another student last year, her elite boarding school wouldn't do anything about it. This year Alex is head of the Mockingbirds, a secret society of students who police and protect the student body. While she desperately wants to live up to the legacy that's been given to her, she's now dealing with a case unlike any the Mockingbirds have seen before.
It isn't rape. It isn't bullying. It isn't hate speech. A far-reaching prescription drug ring has sprung up, and students are using the drugs to cheat. But how do you try a case with no obvious victim? Especially when the facts don't add up, and each new clue drives a wedge between Alex and the people she loves most: her friends, her boyfriend, and her fellow Mockingbirds.
As Alex unravels the layers of deceit within the school, the administration, and even the student body the Mockingbirds protect, her struggle to navigate the murky waters of vigilante justice may reveal more about herself than she ever expected. (courtesy of Goodreads)
The Mockingbirds was one of my favorite books of 2011 so I eagerly picked up the sequel, The Rivals, as soon as it was released. The Rivals was good...but not as good as The Mockingbirds.
The world of The Mockingbirds was largely black and white. We knew who the good guys were and we knew who the bad guys were. It wasn't quite that simple, but for the most part, it was clear. The villains and the heroes is much less clear in The Rivals. A massive drug ring designed to improve academic performance is spreading through the school. So many people are involved, or appear to be involved, that it's not easy to pin down a defendant to put on trial in front of The Mockingbirds. Or whether a trial should be held at all.
As frustrating as the ethical murkiness of this book was, I loved its complexity. The leaders of The Mockingbirds seemed all knowing from Alex's perspective last year. Now as the leader, she is beset by indecision. Not only that, but she has to deal with disagreements within her counsel and difficult personalities. I hated seeing Alex struggling so much, but part of me was thinking that this was an incredible preparation for real life. I admire Daisy Whitney for portraying The Mockingbirds so realistically.
Alex continues to be a fascinating character. She is still struggling with the after effects of her date rape from the previous year. I like that Daisy chose to keep it part of Alex's psyche, since the trauma of such an event doesn't just disappear. In many ways, Alex grew more this year than she did last year. She had to choose between what was right and what was easy, which was especially difficult because what she thought was right might actually be wrong. I also liked that Alex didn't always make the right choices and had to deal with them.
Martin, Alex's boyfriend is still a strong character. He is hard to like in this book. He challenges Alex on many of her decisions about the drug ring. Not unfairly, but as a reader I was always rooting for Alex, so it frustrated me. One of my main criticisms of this book is that Daisy chose the oft-repeated second book plot point of a love triangle. As a result, Martin often appears to be a jealous boyfriend. He acts like any teenage boy would act if his girlfriend was spending an awful lot of time with another guy, but I missed my sweet, nerdy Martin from the first book. Still, he is predominantly a good and kind guy.
I think Daisy is a great writer, but the excellence of her prose didn't stand out as much in this book. I'm not exactly sure why. I think it was partly because she described the psychological impact of date rape in a way that felt almost three dimensional in the first book and there wasn't an opportunity to have such detailed description in The Rivals. I also disliked the love triangle element mentioned above. Even moreso because the plot angle seemed to fizzle away abruptly at the end of the book, like she couldn't figure out what to do with it and just decided to ignore it. The passivity of the adults at Themis Academy became so apparent as to be blatantly unbelievable in this book as well. In fact, it was no longer passivity - it was knowing inactivity.
The Rivals is a good book. It isn't as special as The Mockingbirds, but the challenges Alex and her board faced were in some ways more difficult. How Alex responded to challenges from her board, her classmates, and her best friends showed what kind of leader she was. Plus the mystery of "who-dunnit" was surprising, with plenty of twists and turns I didn't expect. I would definitely recommend you check out The Rivals!