by Mindy McGinnis
Published on September 20, 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books
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.
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I’ve always found my best reviews tend to be the ones written while still in the emotional thrall of a book. For a book like The Female of the Species, I think this is especially important.
Before I go on, I want to mention that this book contains a lot of commentary on rape and rape culture, as well as scenes with vividly written animal cruelty and violence. While it’s made clear that these topics are beyond horrible, the scenes may cause emotional distress for those who find them triggering.
The Female of the Species is pure wreckage on the mind. It’s not a book with a straightforward plot. Character A does this to get this, but something happens that they have to overcome. Instead, it is the story of Alex Craft, a girl who is strong yet broken with a moral compass firmly pressed to one side, someone with no room for the dark things in the world. Though there are 3 characters who share their points-of-view, this is not their story.
I’m honestly struggling to find the words to describe this book and I know that the longer I wait the worse that will get so bear with me here.
Alex. Alex fucking Craft. This girl, y’all, let me tell you. I loved her with all of her little quirks. She had so much happen to her, from an absent father to a mother who barely tolerated her, and then her sister, the crux of it all. Her sister who was used and murdered and left in the woods. And this girl? She decided to do something about it that no one else would.
Of the three characters (Alex, Peekay, and Jack), she was the one I loved most. This is your precious cinnamon bun, for those who like to describe characters as such. She takes the extremist side against rape and lashes out in the most violent of ways. But not only that, through Alex, we see what our culture has become like. How people are afraid to report such acts because they’re snitching on others they know, how we’re too afraid to do anything and it just lets it happen over and over again. And what does Mindy McGinnis do? She throws it in our faces because we need to see this.
This book bashes on so many stereotypes and sins of our world. You see the girl who lives behind a nickname, who isn’t the perfect princess she’s expected to be. You see the girl behind all the make-up, the one who appears “easy” but is more than just a pretty face. You see the boy who seems like he has everything but really has nothing. You see the boy who doesn’t understand. You see the girl who tries to hold it all inside, the weird girl, the one that no one ever notices, and the one that refuses to sit by like everyone else.
Alex described herself right when she said she was a wolf. Our society has bred sheep, and it’s only the wolves, the ones who are different, who fight, who survive, that make a difference.
Gods this book is just beautiful.
We hear the phrase “boys will be boys” often enough but the fact that the phrase exists, that we allow one gender to act a certain way as if it’s acceptable when the reality is far from the truth is disgusting. The scene that this is mentioned in, by the way, was so utterly perfect and true that it’s scary.
This whole book takes place in a small town. I grew up in a small town. I still live in that small town (for the time being). Everything that was said about small towns hit hard. Everyone knows everyone. No one speaks up against someone else because of that little fact. So many times I caught wind of rumors in high school of encounters in families, with friends, that should have been reported but no one ever did. No one wanted to rat their friends or family out.
And this book. It just takes that and smashes it into your head. This is our culture. And it’s wrong.
I feel like I’ve gone on too long without mentioning the other two protagonists, Peekay (named so for being the Preacher’s Kid aka PK) and Jack (star athlete, student, ladies man). Peekay had the kindness that Alex lacked after bottling all that anger in. She was the friend that Alex needed and she, herself, was such a strong presence in the book but also not, if that makes sense. She had her own life but in this story it’s more about how that changed with Alex. Jack had it all: he was a top athlete, top of his class (competing against Alex), and he got around. But it was clear that his life lacked something, for all the good he had it really didn’t mean anything in the end. I loved watching his character grow and gain a purpose beyond sleeping with every girl that threw herself at him. In a way, both Jack and Peekay changed because of Alex, and they helped change the girl who played with darkness and almost won.
Now, this is going to sound crazy, but I actually almost put this book down about a third of the way through because of the violence and graphic scenes involving animals. I don’t have many triggers that strong but that’s one of them, and those scenes were written in such a vivid manner that it was hard to move past them (though I’m glad I did).
That’s the real strength of this book, I think. The writing lures you in, both interesting in the storytelling style and just generally captivating. Then you’re led farther, past your comfort zone, past those topics that you only hear whispered about, the ones that you know exist but just block out. But you keep going and soon you can’t ignore them. And that’s the worst part of The Female of the Species. You’re forced to face that which is ugly, which is disgusting and wrong and dark and terrible in the world.
This is not a lighthearted book. Don’t expect happy endings and good times. But it is powerful and emotional and will train-wreck that perfect bubble you have in your mind about the world.
It’s hard to tell someone to read something that might upset them, that might change how they think about things, that might cause more pain than good. But this is a book that I believe everyone should read. This is one that I wish I read when I was in high school, when I heard those rumors and didn’t look into them because I didn’t think it was my place. This is a book that will tear you from the inside out and in the end you will be stronger for it.
This is The Female of the Species and we have more power than you may think.