Review – The Female of the Species

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

Oh man why did it take me so long to pick this book up?

I’ve read two of McGinnis’s books before (A Madness so Discreet and, more recently, Not a Drop to Drink) and loved both, but The Female of the Species blows both of them out of the water.

McGinnis’s writing style remains sparse, evocative, and beautiful.  She expertly paints locales with only a few short sentences and brings complex characters – real people – to life.  I’ve had some occasional quibbles about how truly realistic her characters have been in her other novels but I felt no doubts in this one.  I’ve known these people.  Not just the three viewpoint characters, but Park and Adam and Branley and Sara and Ray and Mrs. Hendricks and the parents… There wasn’t a single character in this novel who I didn’t recognize.

I think that’s one of the reasons this novel hit me so hard.  The knowing.  I’m not from a town as small as the one that Alex and the others call home, but I know what it’s like to know people without knowing them, to make those snap judgments, and so on.

The other reason the novel hits so hard is, of course, the subject matter.  Unlike with A Madness so Discreet, McGinnis keeps the darkness simmering away for the whole novel instead of letting up even a little bit.  We’re reminded of the sharp edges and contradictions that exist in all of us, alongside the smoothed out faces we work so hard to present.  But the secrets and the ‘valleys’ are always there and McGinnis doesn’t let us forget that – nor does she let us forget the danger inherent in both the world and our selves.

Having said that, I have to say that my favorite part was Officer Nolan’s assembly towards the beginning of the book.  I wish so much that more police and schools would handle the anti-drug/alcohol assemblies like that because it would be so much more effective.  Of course it helped that Branley got singled out, leading to the rape joke and thus allowing Nolan to make his point more effectively, which could be done thanks to the narrative, but still.  The whole ‘names and faces’ to the statistics – to both sides of the statistics, victim and attacker – was brilliant.

And of course I can’t review this book without mentioning the wonderful, beautiful female friendships.  That Girlfriend Pact Emergency chapter was simply lovely, and I liked Alex’s reactions to it, showing us that she’s changed since the start of the novel but also showing us changes in Peekay and Sara, and not just in who they’re willing to let into their lives.

Having three completely different narrators really helped keep the story moving, and I was never confused about whose head I was in – although I’m not going to complain about the chapter headings telling us exactly who’s chapter it was.  Each of the trio had a different piece of the narrative to contribute and each of them felt authentic.  Their high school experience might be completely different from mine, but I still understood where they were all coming from and could sympathize with their struggles, their emotions, and their journeys.

5 out of 5, cannot recommend highly enough.  Seriously, this book was amazing.

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