"You see it in all animals- the female of the species is more deadly than the male..."
The Female of the Species is such a great, fantastic book. However, it is not the easiest read. I'm just going to put that out there first thing. It deals with murder, animal abuse, rape, and a little bit of poverty. There are some heavy, aching, soul-crushing moments. Through some sort of writing sorcery, there are also uplifting, sweet, and hopeful moments. I was nervous because I had been on a bright and cheery run, and this one is pretty much the opposite. I read it anyways because I love Mindy McGinnis and because it brings up a lot of important issues.
Alex is best known because her sister was murdered. Other than that, she is mostly invisible. What her classmates don't know is that she killed her sister's murderer. He wasn't convicted, so she took justice into her own hands. She doesn't feel bad about it. There is a darkness inside of her, a darkness she inherited from her father.
Then Alex is pulled out of the dark. The first person to get close to her is Peekay. Peekay, P.K. for Preacher's Kid, has a reputation as a good girl because she is the daughter of the preacher. She works hard to shed the reputation, drinking and committing general debauchery. Alex and Peekay both take a class elective at the animal shelter. They bond over a bag of dead puppies.
The second person is Jack. Jack and Alex are salutatorian and valedictorian of their class. He needs to be valedictorian so that he can get a scholarship, get into college, and get out of their small town. She doesn't care either way because she doesn't plan to go to college. Despite hooking up with his childhood friend, who is now the hottest girl in school, Jack becomes obsessed with Alex. He helps pull her car out of a ditch, and they end up in a relationship.
Unfortunately, Alex can't help her nature. When one of Jack's friends grabs her in fun, she hits him where it counts. At a party, some druggie older kids are about to rape Peekay. Thankfully, Alex is keeping an eye on her friend. She stops them, then proceeds to attack the main perpetrator. Jack doesn't quite realize how bad it is until she shows up at his house, smelling like smoke. One of Peekay's friends just found out that her uncle had been molesting her sister. Then his house was on fire...with him in it. This puts a strain on their relationship, understatement of the century.
On to the difficult stuff...it's hard to come up with a good seque that leads into these things. There's a bunch of stuff dealing with animals at the shelter and at Jack's after school job where he slaughters cows (I personally have difficulty reading about animal abuse and death, so I have this mantra where I repeat "It's not real, it's not real" over and over to myself. It's effective, though I still cry a bunch). The kids attend an assembly where a police officer talks about rape. There are two attempted rapes depicted in the book. It's hard to read, but important. There's some cool parts about gender equality. At one point, Alex observes some male classmates pretending to fornicate with a ball in gym class. Nobody bats an eye. She speculates what would happen if she were to do the same, and predicts that it would not be dismissed as easily.
But boys will be boys, our favorite phrase that excuses so many things, while the only thing we have for the opposite gender is women, said with disdain and punctuated with an eyeroll...
I always feel as though I do a poor job explaining these things, but I want to emphasize that this book has a lot of importance. It seems like another YA read about a sociopath murderer, but there is so much more to it. You can read an excellent article where the author talks about her reasons for writing the book and including so many difficult topics here.
I received my copy of The Female of the Species from Edelweiss, courtesy of Katherine Tegen Books. It's available for purchase now.