The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis / ★★★★1/2
Summary: 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.
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. But then I used my words, strung in phrases that cut deep, and people paid attention; people gasped. People didn’t know what to think.
My language is shocking.
Genre: Contemporary/Young Adult
I’d heard this book was brutal, but I didn’t exactly know what to expect going into it. This book is told from the point of views of its three main characters, Alex, the girl whose sister was killed, Jack, the jock, and Peekay, the preacher’s daughter. I thought this book was going to be about three unlikely friends teaming up to solve a murder. What this book turned out being was…far more intense than that. It’s about high school romance and drama, and it’s also about murder and rape.
This book was far more character driven than I expected. What stood out to me the most about this book was how perfectly imperfect the characters were, how horrifically imperfect. I got the impression that Mindy McGinnis wasn’t trying to make us like her characters despite their flaws, but showing us characters who are sometimes good, and sometimes bad. The way McGinnis goes about exploring this was fascinating and complex. The characters themselves wrestle with being “good people” despite their more primal instincts.
Alex, in particular, has got to be one of the most interesting and unique teenage characters I’ve ever read. Her character’s dark struggle was unlike any I’d read from a younger person’s point of view, and I loved the contrast it had against and effect it had on her more “teenager” problems, such as falling in love and making friends. Alex was by far my favorite character. She is a kind of terrible hero that I couldn’t stop rooting for.
Jack’s character surprised me a little, perhaps because when I see a character is a jock, I expect them to defy that stereotype. And Jack did, in ways. And in others he did not. I felt like I could have liked him as a person if I hadn’t known everything going on inside his head, and that’s why I think his inclusion was so important. If this book hadn’t had a male’s perspective, it would have been so different.
Most of all, this book is about rape culture, and it was so brilliantly well done. McGinnis tackled many truths and tough spots and fashioned her characters to be just the ones to do it. I thought it was very well done. And I loved the ending. The Female of the Species is one of those books where you know what the author’s got to do to make it great, and McGinnis knew just what to do.
And while this book is a heavy read, it was a relatively fast one- I read it in just a day. So if you’re looking for something relatively quick, but hits hard, I’d say give this a try. I even teared up a little. It’s definitely a book that will stick with me.