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.
Rarely is there a book that I’ve read lately that I’ve finished and wanted to scream “READ THIS!!!!!” at everyone I see. One that I want to carry with me at work at all times so I can hand it to every single person who asks for a recommendation. Rarely has there been a book that I’ve thought so hard about and has stayed with me for so long after I finished it. And one that is so incredibly timely in light of recent events. But here it is. Seriously. READ THIS.
Three years ago, a guy I worked with recommended a book to those of us in the store who read YA. He was so excited about it and wanted everyone to read it because it was written by his cousin. It was a debut novel called Not a Drop to Drink by a new author named Mindy McGinnis. So I read it, mostly to be nice, and not really expecting much. But I was surprised. Really surprised. It was GOOD. I recommended it to all my YA customers, not just for my coworker, but because I genuinely wanted everyone to read it! I read the sequel as soon as it came out. I picked up her next novel, A Madness so Discreet. And when I heard she had a new book coming out this year, I was stoked.
Like NaDtD, The Female of the Species did not disappoint. I was captivated by the character that McGinnis created in Alex. You want to like her. But at the same time, it’s morally hard to. It’s a very conflicting feeling.
We know from the very first line what Alex has done: “This is how I kill someone.” We think we know from the first chapter what kind of person Alex is. Cold. Calculated. Calmly expressed rage with zero regret– behavior which continues throughout. But we spend the rest of the book trying to reconcile the Alex we think know with the Alex we see taking care of animals at a shelter, protecting her one and only friend, and falling in love for the first time. She’s just a normal teenage girl, doing normal teenage girl things. And then we’re hit with another reminder of her true nature. It’s very Dexterish. (There’s even a reference to the “dark passenger,” an often used phrase in Dexter to describe his urge to kill.)
While not as strongly of a developed character as Alex, Peekay has some complexity to her as well. Where Alex keeps her rage on the surface and acts on it at will, Peekay’s rage hides within her, wishing to be expressed. Instead, she fantasizes about it, picturing herself punching people or harming them in other ways. It’s McGinnis’ way of showing that we all have dark passengers lurking within, even the most benign of us, like a preacher’s kid, whether we express them or not.
I can’t say as many positive things about Jack and Branley though. They’re 100% your stereotypical All-American perfect popular kids. He’s the hot star athlete and valedictorian who just happens to need a scholarship in order to ditch his one-horse town, and of course falls in love with the loner girl. And Branley is the perfect beautiful blonde cheerleader who can, and does, get every guy she wants. There’s not much depth to either one, and I found myself glossing over a lot of Jack’s chapters. I would have much rather had the story told from just Alex’s POV. It was by far the strongest of the bunch.
But the story itself, and the issue it surrounds kept me involved from start to finish. While there is a big part of the story that follows Alex and her blossoming romance with Jack, the main theme of the story is the prevalence of rape culture within our society and its effect.
Alex’s sister, Anna, is abducted, raped, and murdered. This leads Alex on a path of vengeance, not only against the man who has done this to her sister, but any man like him.
I’m living my life waiting for the man who comes for me like one did for Anna, with hungry eyes behind the wheel and rope in the trunk.
But I don’t know how much longer I can wait.
She’s ready to defend against, fight, or kill anyone who so much as makes a comment, a pass, or a play at her or any girl around her. She even shuts down her one and only friend, Peekay, for slut-shaming Branley.
Again and again Alex points out the double-standard of our society, allowing “boys to be boys”, but girls to be criticized and shamed for the same actions. How everyone simply looks the other way instead of stepping in and stopping the small things that can lead to the mindset behind more serious assault. Even how animals who bite simply out of fear are put down immediately, while humans who perpetrate far worse crimes are given a slap on the wrist and allowed to carry on.
While some of the story and characters lack total development, it’s still a book I would highly recommend just on the message. I want EVERYONE to read it, but I know it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s graphic, violent, and harshly and unapologetically honest. Much like Alex herself. It’s an uncomfortable read at times, but that’s what makes it so powerful. Because reading it brings up all the emotions and experiences we have as women living in this society. Every woman can relate to some part of it. Every woman has her own version of this story. And it comes at an incredibly relevant time in our history– a time where we see stories of rape and sexual assault in our top news stories almost daily. Where we’ve seen men given the barest of criminal sentences for ’20 minutes of action’, comments and actions laughed off as ‘locker room talk’, and victims demeaned and belittled and paraded around in the media. If a story like this can open some eyes, allow people to be open and honest about what is happening in our society, and help bring a change and a stop to it, then I can overlook some of weaknesses within the book.
Because of the very honest and graphic nature of this book, I’d recommend it for higher grade high school age and beyond. There are many references to sex, rape, drinking, drugs, violence, and mature language.