TITLE: The Female of the Species
AUTHOR: Mindy McGinnis
GENRE: Fiction, Young Adult
PURCHASE LINKS: Amazon
MOBILISM LINK: Download
Description: 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.
Review: Sometimes it feels like every book I come across seems eerily familiar, words I've already seen. There is always an evil company that needs to be taken down or a mythological something, et cetera while you rinse and repeat. I've shuffled between books lately, not really taken by the first chapter here or a few chapters there. Also, if no one says "This book is the new Gone Girl!" ever again, I'll be happy.
Of course, inconveniently and when I least expect it, a book grabs me and refuses to let go; a book such as this one, The Female of the Species, with its knife-clean prose combining with a weird alchemy of emotion leaving me unable to put it down. I was doing laundry and I literally propped my kindle up on the dryer, unwilling to lose the thirty seconds it takes to toss the clothes in a basket. I raced through it in fewer than 12 hours. (And that time includes unwilling detours for lunch, sleep, and socialization.)
The Female of the Species is told through three character's points of view.
First is Alex - the sister of a tragedy, defined by her sister's death to the extent that she loses her identity. She essentially isolates herself from all society, choosing books and studying to the extent that she speaks in a stilted language, unwilling to assimilate long enough to be one of the crowd. She has a secret, and it's never very far away from her thoughts or actions.
"Anna said that I shouldn't go, that sending me out into the world alone was like letting a wolf loose, and her, my keeper, nowhere near... Then she was gone and I unlocked the cage myself."
Alex may be a bit terrifying, but she's the kind of friend you want to have on your side. Her violent tendencies leak across the page until little by little you understand that there is a place for them in the world. She will never allow her friends to be hurt, assaulted, taken advantage of, or anything she can prevent.
One glorious moment comes when she's saving a friend from a horrifying possible rape. The passage below is a bit of a self-indulgence because I love the way she expresses herself and also because I wish Alex were by my side in high school. (I urge you to read this quote in the Samuel Jackson voice from Pulp Fiction.)
"Ray Parsons, you have no soul," she says, her voice gaining volume as she speaks. "You are a bag of skin. You are a pile of bones. Every cell that has ever split inside of you was a waste of energy. Where you walk you leave a vacuum. Your existence should cease."
Second, we meet PeeKay - she's the kind of true and loyal friend you hope to run across once in a lifetime. Her name originates from the PK of Preacher's Kid, but she's more than that. Thanks to a volunteer job, she is forced to talk to Alex. They grow closer and Alex gets a taste of friendship and how interpersonal relationships work.
"People have always just called me Peekay."
And I let them. Even though maybe in the beginning it wasn't meant to be nice. Maybe in the beginning there was a taunt underneath it, an edge born on the playground that supposedly matured into affection. But maybe it didn't. Maybe it was a constant affirmation of who I'm supposed to be, said into my face every day to remind me of my place..."
The last is Jack, a hometown hero, typical of small towns where football is the only way out. It's a running theme, though, that you can't really leave. Injuries and pregnant girlfriends are the albatross that keeps the town turning and the population count from dwindling.
Jack is tangled up in Alex's story from the moments that her sister's body is found several yards away while he gets high and has sex with his friend-with-benefits. He feels like an asshole, and honestly, he acts like one too. He finds a fragile redemption in his absorption and tentative love story with Alex, even as he yearns to leave town and never come back.
"What was that about?" Alex asks as I pull away.
I should've known I couldn't play it cool with her, act like running into Brian was a casual thing, not a terrifying flash-forward of what my life is going to be if I don't get the fuck out of here and never come back."
But then. Because this is not exactly a happy story. But then. The violence that hangs as merely potential becomes reality and Jack sees the truth about Alex's nature. He struggles and backslides into being that football hero caricature.
These are complicated characters, written large, in the ashes of a dying town. Even the secondary characters are three dimensional... living breathing entities, more than a stereotype thrust into a story to move the plot along. I'm used to the mean girl shorthand, but that doesn't mean I don't love it when she shows up with unexpected kindness.
I won't spoil the surprises. You need to gasp at the same points I did and maybe even cry. I did, and I'm glad I did. This book snapped me out of a jaded place and I am celebrating that, although the true irony is that I felt so intensely that I cannot seem to focus on anything once again.
Obviously, I highly recommend this book, with caveats for various forms of violence and non-explicit sex, consensual and non-consensual. In this town, boys will not be boys. Let this story remake you into a better person, more aware of rape culture and how easily it's excused. Let Alex remind you of what's right and what's wrong.