Published by Katherine Tegen Books on September 20th 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
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Goodreads Synopsis: 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.
Wow, what a book! I hardly know where to even begin so I’m going to start off by saying Mindy McGinnis’s The Female of the Species is a book that definitely isn’t going to be for everyone. This is not a light contemporary read by any stretch. The Female of the Species is dark, violent, and incredibly intense. It’s also one of the most powerful takedowns of rape culture that I’ve ever read.
For me, the most fascinating part of The Female of the Species is main character, Alex Craft. Alex has always had a dark side. She can feel the violence bubbling beneath the surface, just waiting to be unleashed. For most of her life, she has been able to keep this dark side under control. However, when her older sister Anna is sexually assaulted and murdered and the murderer goes free, the beast within Alex awakens and she takes matters into her own hands to get justice for her sister. Alex gets away with her crime but feels like she could easily do the same thing again if she encounters another predator so she doesn’t really trust herself to be around other people. Because of this, she doesn’t really make any friends at school and is mainly known by her classmates as “the girl with the dead sister.” That is, until she unexpectedly becomes friends with Jack and Peekay, her first real friendships, and it suddenly becomes a lot harder to hide her true dark nature.
I loved the complexity of Alex’s character. On the one hand, she’s a straight A student in line to be valedictorian of her class and she also volunteers at the local animal shelter and is super gentle with all of the animals that she cares for. On the other hand, she’s a stone cold vigilante who will go after anyone she views as a predator.
The first time her new friends witness vigilante Alex in action is in the hallway at school when a guy makes a really bad sexual joke in front of Alex. The joke is stupid, hurtful, and offensive and it earns the guy a punch in the groin from Alex that brings him to his knees. The reactions of those who witness the punch are a mixed bag: some are shocked and appalled, while others pretty much cheer her on. I count myself as one of those who cheered her on.
At first I thought that perhaps her friendship with Peekay (aka Preacher’s Kid, but whose real name is actually Claire) would help to settle Alex and help her live a more normal day-to-day life as they worked at the shelter together and bonded so well. Instead, however, it actually makes the vigilante behavior escalate because the more Alex begins to care about Peekay, the more protective she becomes of her. When Peekay gets drunk at a party and some guys try to take advantage of her, Alex swoops in like a hawk and violently attacks the guys, actually drawing blood and disfiguring one of them. I have to admit that I cheered Alex on here as well but at the same time was a little uncomfortable with just how violent she got. Or maybe my discomfort was more with myself for thinking “Yes! Get them, Alex!” while she was pulverizing them. Either way, this was kind of a ‘Holy crap!’ scene for me.
To fully flesh out Alex’s character, McGinnis structures the story so that it is told from three different points of view, each of them giving us a slightly different look at Alex. Alex, of course, is one of them, while her friends Peekay and Jack are the other two.
It is through Alex’s chapters that we see how dark of a character she really is. One standout moment for me was when she thinks back to a time when she tried reading a bunch of psychology textbooks trying to figure out what’s wrong with her because she knows the way she feels isn’t normal but doesn’t think she’ll ever feel differently: “I’m not fine, and I doubt I ever will be. The books didn’t help me find a word for myself; my father refused to accept the weight of it. And so I made my own. I am vengeance.”
Alternating Alex’s dark chapters with those of Peekay and Jack allows us to not only see how Alex views herself, but also how others around her see her and how their views of her change the more they get to know her and see her darker side showing itself more and more. While Alex views herself as this monster who can’t be trusted around others, Peekay sees her as a wonderful friend and as the one who can work magic with even the most hostile animals at the shelter where they work.
Jack, along the same lines as Peekay, sees Alex way different from how she sees herself. He sees her as a girl he wants to know as more than just the girl with the dead sister. He becomes attracted to Alex because he sees her as having so much more substance than other girls their age. Eventually Jack and Alex do become romantically involved and their closeness gives Alex a glimpse at what a normal life could look like and she starts to wonder if it’s possible to control the darkness within her and live happily ever after with Jack.
Seeing the story from these three different points of view made for a very suspenseful read because as that darkness kept showing itself and giving Jack and Peekay little glimpses into Alex’s violent nature, I couldn’t help but want to know if these relationships would survive if they were to find out the whole truth about Alex and what would happen to Alex if she were to lose these two people who had become so important to her.
My only real dislike was that there was one scene that contained animal cruelty, which is always a turnoff for me. Thankfully it was a small scene, but it just didn’t feel necessary to the plot so I was disappointed that it was in the book.
Even though I’ve said this isn’t a book that will appeal to everyone because of the darkness and the violence, The Female of the Species is still such an important book that I wish everyone would go outside of their comfort zones and read it anyway. It makes a powerful statement about rape culture and how it affects people. There shouldn’t need to be Alex Crafts in the world to take matters into their own hands.
That said, I can state without hesitation that Alex Craft and The Female of the Species are going to stick with me for a long time. They’ve given me a lot to think about.