In The Female of the Species, Mindy McGinnis tackles rape culture, revenge, and justice profoundly and poetically in the context of a small-town high school. The story is told through three narratives– Alex, Jack, and Peekay.
Three years before the start of the book, Alex Crafts’s sister was brutally raped and murdered. Since her killer walked free, she’s become obsessed with seeking vengeance in the same violent way her sister’s life ended. Out of control and realizing that her obsession may be dangerous for others, she isolates herself within the halls of her school and the silent home she lives in with her drunken mother.
Jack Fisher is the All-American high school dream boy. He seems perfect– he is a superstar athlete, is one of the most popular boys in school, and is about to get a full-ride to college, second-in-line for valedictorian, only behind Alex. He tends to be a womanizer and “just one of the guys” engaging in harmful locker room talk that perpetuates rape culture, but behind his facade, he longs to get out of this small town and feels horribly about how he acted in Alex’s presence the night her sister’s body was found. But in spite of all of this, Alex makes his heart beat faster in a way that none of his conquests have.
Peekay is the preacher’s kid (thus the nickname), fiercely faithful to the Lord and her family, but still looking to further her identity outside of her family’s church. She falls into an accidental friendship with Alex when they start working together at a local animal shelter, and, slowly yet surely, she begins to peel away Alex’s protective layers and Alex begins to peel back some of her own.
Everyone is excited to be taking on their senior year, filled with bonfires and wine coolers and savoring each moment together. But Alex’s violent side starts to show when the gang brings her to a party and she fights off some older boys who are on meth in order to protect Peekay.
I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, as I think it’s best to go in not knowing too much, so I will speak in broader terms about why I loved this book.
The Female of the Species the kind of thriller that you literally can’t put down. It’s easy to fly through with its short chapters and captivating plot, and leaves you wanting more in the best way. I was mesmerized by each narrator, and even the side characters– even though I didn’t agree with all of their actions on a personal level, the writing made it so I understood why everyone made the decisions they did and made me feel connected to them throughout the entire book.
The poignancy with which McGinnis writes about rape culture is phenomenal. As a survivor of sexual assault and a woman living in this world filled with rape culture, I felt heard and acknowledged. Obviously, I can only speak for myself in this, so this is just how I felt throughout the book. I haven’t seen many (or any) YA books that addressed the harmful effects of rape culture throughout their entire plots, so this was a unique and awesome thing to see within the genre. I could go on and on about rape culture in general, but that might be for another blog post.
The female friendships in this book are also a breath of fresh air. Peekay, Alex, and Sara form a strong bond, empowering one another to live life as themselves and not dig themselves into the darkness of crazy-high expectations or high school heartbreak. The young women in this book strongly defend each other and see through one another’s facades, even when it would be easier to see one another as wholly one-dimensional.
I cannot stress how much I adored this book. It was surprising just how much I loved it, considering the fact that I wasn’t the hugest fan of the first Mindy McGinnis book I read, A Madness So Discreet. But this completely changed my tune and I know I’ll be checking out more of her work soon!