Review: The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

The Female of the Species
by Mindy McGinnis

A contemporary YA novel that examines rape culture through alternating perspectives.

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.

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication date:  September 20th 2016
Source/Format: Bought/eBook
Purchase links: Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Book Depository
My Rating: ★★★★★

My Thoughts:
TW: attempted rape

“This is how I kill someone.” declares the book’s opening line. There is no going back with a strong statement as that. You cannot promise me murder, then cop out. With great satisfaction, I report that the book delivered. “The Female of the Species” is a pulpy YA, packed with a girl power punch hellbent on its intent to smash patriarchy.

The book is told in alternating points of view of three teenagers living in an Ohio small town. Alex Craft, the girl who made the bold opening chapter, is out for revenge on the person responsible for her big sister’s murder. There’s Peekay who got dumped by her boyfriend for a hotter girl in school. And Jack who is the hotter girl’s childhood friend, who also sleeps with her even though she clearly has a boyfriend.

All three narrators are deeply flawed but I can’t help but be drawn in with their appeal. Alex is cold and calm, loyal and fierce —my perfect anti-heroine. Despite her dark personality, she is quite adorable when she goes through the motions of any regular high school kid, like making friends or being in love for the first time. Peekay, the prodigal preacher’s kid, is the bumbling sidekick. Her impulsiveness and emotional antics lead her to dangerous situations but she is a good person deep inside. Jack is a self-proclaimed douchebag, trying hard not be a douchebag but still almost always ending up like one. He is Alex’s love interest.

The writing is compact and effectual. One liners like, “I am vengeance” and “My life is a list of things I didn’t do.”  definitely catches attention and makes powerful impression. The narrative is efficient, resulting to immediate gratification on the part of the reader. It makes daring propositions then follows through immediately. There’s a promise of murder and lo, there’s murder on that same chapter. There’s a suggestion of a takedown on the penis doodles everywhere and the next day, someone vandalized the school’s entrance with a massive vagina. I am thoroughly engaged such that when I have to drop reading to do something else, I’m still thinking about the book, its characters and what will happen next.

A particular chapter where Peekay lost her control and tried to hit someone resonates with me. Like Peekay, there were times when I fantasized about inflicting harm to people who hurt me. It’s sort of a coping mechanism—the shallow satisfaction that I get from imagining that I hurt back someone who hurt me is a dark fantasy that lets me sleep some nights. But as the book said, it eventually becomes a prison. You either live in dark fantasies forever or make it a reality. And either way is a horrible way to live.

The book draws allegorical references to animals to show the primal side of a human’s mind. Both Alex and Peekay volunteer in an animal shelter and Jack works part-time in a slaughterhouse. The title of the book came from how the female of the species are said to be more inherently protective of their own than the males, therefore more deadly.

The book has violent tendencies but it does not condone violence. It acknowledges the vicious side of “the female of the species” but highlights the nurturing side as well. Women all over the world share the same threats and terrors but we can only be afraid for so long. We no longer remain the cornered animals that we used to because we have each other’s back now—women fighting together. We see the proof to this in movements like #MeToo and Time's Up. The liberating message of the book for me is that women supporting women is actually not a new thing. It is a woman’s natural instinct to protect her own kind.

Diversity Watch:
Alex Craft, one of the narrators, is described as green-eyed and dark-haired.

Jack Fisher, one of the narrators, is racially indeterminate

Peekay, one of the narrators, is described as blue-eyed.

Sara, Peekay’s friend is racially indeterminate, explicitly mentioned as lesbian.

Branley Jacobs, Jack’s childhood friend and on-off girlfriend, is described as blond.

Lila, Branley’s friend, is described as blond.

Adam, Peekay’s ex-boyfriend and Branley’s current boyfriend, is racially indeterminate.

Parker Castle, Jack’s bestfriend, is racially indeterminate.

Ray Parsons, a party gate crasher, is described as blond and blue eyed.

Police Officer Nolan is racially indeterminate.

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