The Female of the Species
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Publisher: Katherine Teagan Books
Release date: September 20, 2016
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it. When her older sister, Anna, was murdered three years ago and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best. The language of violence.
While her crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people, even in her small hometown. She relegates herself to the shadows, a girl who goes unseen in plain sight, unremarkable in the high school hallways.
But Jack Fisher sees her. He’s the guy all other guys want to be: the star athlete gunning for valedictorian with the prom queen on his arm. Guilt over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered hasn’t let him forget Alex over the years, and now her green eyes amid a constellation of freckles have his attention. He doesn’t want to only see Alex Craft; he wants to know her.
So does Peekay, the preacher’s kid, a girl whose identity is entangled with her dad’s job, though that does not stop her from knowing the taste of beer or missing the touch of her ex-boyfriend. When Peekay and Alex start working together at the animal shelter, a friendship forms and Alex’s protective nature extends to more than just the dogs and cats they care for.
Circumstances bring Alex, Jack, and Peekay together as their senior year unfolds. While partying one night, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting the teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever.
This is a story about darkness and violence. It is a story about rape and the boys and men who just take what they want. It is a story about how violence against women has become so insidious in our culture that it is the norm. In a world of #gamergate where women get death and rape threats simply for being a part of the gaming world. In a world where a convicted felon gets mere months in jail after raping an unconscious woman because the judge was more worried about his future than hers. That is the world this story takes place in, and it is a story I will think about for a long, long time. I finished it at 2 in the morning after starting at about midnight the night before, and I just laid in my bed reeling from the ending while my husband slept peacefully beside me. I wanted to shake him awake and talk about this book, but I knew he wouldn’t appreciate that, so instead I find myself writing literally my first full review in months because I needed to let you know about this amazing, dark story.
Sometimes when Harper does its magical dump on Edelweiss I cannot help but just snag, snag, snag. I’ve been trying to be more careful with my selections and only download the books that I sincerely want to read (and I’ve honestly gotten SO much better over the past year or so), but I will still sometimes just snag books based on cover and author without reading the synopsis…which is what I did with The Female of the Species. I also started this the other night without reading the synopsis. Based on the cover, I was expected a feel-good feminist book with a kick-ass heroine and probably a love story. Kick-ass heroine? Check. Love story? Check. Feel-good? OMG, not at fucking all. From the very first page this story was dark and violent and very mature for YA. It opens with said kick-ass heroine murdering the man who raped and killed her sister, but who got away with it because of lack of evidence. This was a buckle-in-your-in-for-a-bumpy-ride type of story and I couldn’t put it down.
The story follows three perspectives: Alex (who is definitely the main character), the girl with the dead sister, drunk mother, and absentee father; Peekay–a nickname meaning PK, or preacher’s kid–who volunteers with Alex and an animal shelter and becomes her friend; and Jack, the golden boy who is vying for valedictorian against Alex and who becomes smitten by her. There is a fourth prominent character, Branley, who isn’t one of our perspectives, but who is very much a part of the story. She is the beautiful girl who “stole” Peekay’s boyfriend and the girl who continues to try to sleep with Jack despite his burgeoning relationship with Alex. One of my small complaints would be that I wish she would have had a POV as well since she does play a roll in the storyline.
Alex has always been different. Throughout her life she has heard the phrase: “What is wrong with you?” Her older sister used to protect her and the world from her, so when she dies, Alex is left with the task of trying to reign herself in. She isn’t a psychopath–she does what she does because she feels too much empathy, not because she doesn’t feel any. Over the course of her senior year she finds herself in the new position of not only having her first friend (Peekay), but her first boyfriend (Jack). I really liked Alex. I loved how she thought so carefully about her words before she spoke. I loved how fiercely loyal she was of her new best friend. I loved that she refused to slut-shame the girl who continued to try to sleep with her boyfriend (Branley), like when another girl says, “I cannot believe what she is wearing!” (or something along those lines), and Alex responds with a simple, “She looks nice.”
While I could have personally identified with Peekay more, being a preacher’s kid myself, I never really did. I liked her and her friendship with Alex, but I never felt as invested in her story as Alex’s…although really, again, the whole book really is Alex’s story despite having the different POVs. Peekay is getting over a recent break-up with the boy she has been with forever who is now going out with Branley.
Like Peekay, Jack also fell a bit flat for me compared to Alex. He is a typical teenage boy who thinks about sex and drugs and getting out of his small town so he doesn’t end up like his parents. What I loved about him was how much he respected his parents, despite not wanting to end up like them. He takes a job at a slaughterhouse with his father because he respects him and knows that the job is not beneath him. He takes it so he can work with his father for one hour everyday when their shifts overlap. He is doing what he can to break away from Branley and the easy sex she offers so that he can have something real with Alex.
It is books like this that make me sometimes wish I taught high school instead of middle school. I love my school and students, but this book is definitely too old for my MS shelves (although I would definitely have it there if I taught, say, 11th or 12th grade). It is one of those books that makes you really look at our world and what we really do think of as normal. Gorgeously written and fast-paced. If this book isn’t already on your radar, you need to change that immediately.
While I read and ARC, so quotes are subject to change, there were a couple of passages that truly resonated with me. Here is one:
Because there are others like him still. Tonight they used words they know, words that don’t bother people anymore. They said bitch. They told another girl they would put their dicks in her mouth. No one protested because this is our language now.
Read this. Definitely recommend.