Book Review – The Female of the Species

The Female of the SpeciesThe Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book for the Machalo Challenge – a book that is outside your comfort zone. And it is waayyyy out of my comfort zone. In fact, it shouldn’t be in anyone’s comfort zone. That would just be creepy.

The plot in a few words – We have three characters in a small town high school: Alex, Jack and Peekay. Alex’s sister was murdered a few years prior to the story and Alex got the killer back the only way she could – brutally. Enter Jack and Peekay, who change Alex’s solitary outlook on life and are in turn changed by her.

It’s not the sheep that call to me, but the other wolves. I want to run with them, so that I may tear out their throats when they threaten my flock. But I can’t return to the sheep with blood on my breath; they will shy away from me.

This book is dark, disturbing and sent prickles of unease down my skin, but not in the way mainstream thrillers like to pretend to do. Alex is an unapologetic murderer, yes, but the really disturbing bit is how casually women are constantly sexually attacked in Western (and any) culture. I deeply related to so many parts of this book, from the horrible feeling of wanting to be anywhere but in your own skin to the simmering rage that comes from being helpless against injustice.

Honestly, I sat there and pretty much applauded Alex every time she served back the violence she saw perpetrated, because why not? The people who commit sexual crimes never stop to think beyond themselves and the victims shouldn’t have to either. The book is eminently quotable, but this one stuck with me the most, because it’s so heart-breaking:

I live in a world where not being molested as a child is considered luck.

The characterization is really strong as well. Alex doesn’t go Nazi feminist on anyone from her experiences; her rage is reserved specifically for the immediate criminal and the system that allows it, not the individuals she meets. She couldn’t care less about Jack’s past relationships and acknowledges that just because she doesn’t have an interest in dressing like Branley, doesn’t mean she can hate Branley for it. Peekay and Jack are distinct people as well, and I never got confused about who was who. As the quotes show, the writing has lovely, expressive style that manages to avoid being pretentiously avant-garde.

I had a couple of issues that kept me from giving this a full five stars. Some are issues of common sense: how does Alex become so proficient at taking down people from just watching internet videos? The ending of the book is also questionable, because it isn’t clear from the events how Alex is so damaged from being tackled? I can accept it if she cracked her head against a pew and broke her skull, but she literally goes flying into a wall. What?
Equally, I don’t understand how come forensics is such a failure in this town…surely they at least have fingerprint kits, right?

Plot-wise I have a couple of questions as well, since I never really understood what Alex saw in Jack – the flaws of a sudden romance. As for everything else, well, I do wish we had been told what happened to Alex’s mother at the end, but most of it is so well written that there’s nothing to nitpick.

In conclusion: This is one of those books that can’t be encapsulated in words because it’s about as corporeal as fire. And it burns as much. I don’t usually bother reading YA contemporary, particularly emotional ones like this, so take it as a recommendation when I do like one. I do wish this was required reading in schools, because it is understanding without being forgiving, so boys and girls alike have something to learn from it. I know I did.

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