Title: The Female of the Species
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: September 20th, 2016
Length: 352 pages | 7 hours 8 minutes
Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it.
Three years ago, when her older sister, Anna, was murdered and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best—the language of violence. While her own crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people. Not with Jack, the star athlete who wants to really know her but still feels guilty over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered. And not with Peekay, the preacher’s kid with a defiant streak who befriends Alex while they volunteer at an animal shelter. Not anyone.
As their senior year unfolds, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting these three teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever.
This book wrecked me.
It takes a brutally honest look at rape culture. From the overt violence against women (and the ways society passively allows/encourages it) to the more subtle ones (like all the drawings of dicks graffitied everywhere- which was true during my pre-internet high school days and is certainly true today), rape culture is a background noise overlaying the plot. And while it’s easy to say “that shouldn’t happen”, McGinnis uses her male supporting characters (primarily Jack) to show how it happens so easily, and the importance of everyone being vigilant about it (standing up to that violence, reporting it, and generally not allowing it to happen). She also uses the narrative to explore complicated female relationships, and how each of us handles that pervasive threat against us.
The MC is a killer, but she’s coldly pragmatic and practical. Her life has an emotional detachment (and her relationship to her family is…complicated), because she’s honest with herself about what she is. No wild vengeance, and no redemption arc- Alex is observant, and has a moral code, and also has no emotional connections. I don’t think I’ve ever read an MC like her, and I was enthralled in her story from the first page.
Beyond making you think, this book makes you feel. Alex’s voice is so alien, with Peekay’s chapters carrying more of the emotional warmth and vulnerability. Somewhere between the two is Jack’s voice. And as the three change, and change each other, there are instances of cruelty (toward animals as well as humans) that remind us that being detached, being stiffly pragmatic, even being a self-aware killer is less destructive than being casually cruel.
And lest you think this book is a triumphant anthem of girl power, it’s far more subtle, gut-wrenching, and complex than that.
I highly recommend this for everyone. You need this journey, no matter how aware you are, no matter who you are. It will hurt, but it will be worth it.