TW: this will be frank in discussion about sexual assault and revenge. If you are in danger, please either call 911 or, if you need help, RAINN at 1-800-656-4673.
This book has been wreaking havoc with my nightmares and has probably been the main reason why I’ve been in a weird mind space recently. It’s not because of the way it’s written or the themes it dives into. I mean, it’s a YA novel, for goodness sake’s. It’s about the subject matter and how close I am to it, whether i care to admit it or not.
The Female of The Species is heartwrenching and an important novel to read, especially today. It’s about a few teenagers — Peekay, Alex, and Jack — with appearances by other key characters as well. Alex lost her sister in one of the most violently brutal ways a person can go, in my opinion. She goes because someone took the time to rape, torture, and murder her in seemingly cold blood. Or on a meth binge, that part’s not really clear.
Anyway, we come into the novel after the attacker of Alex’s sister has been killed (we learn later on that it’s Alex. this isn’t a spoiler, promise) and the small town is coming to grips with not only one murder, but two. Though this book revolves around high school students and the weirdness that is high school, it dips into some pretty significant themes. Like how do you say no when you’re terrified for your life? And is it rape if you froze? And does God frown upon it if you have sex while on an altar in a historically abandoned, rotting church?
The Female of The Species also takes into account how in several other species, the female is often, more so than not, the protector. The defender. And the one who brings home the bacon, often literally. They’re the strongest links and often the ones that are defended first, not because of weakness but of necessity. And this novel brings the conclusion that the human species isn’t too far off either from the natural kingdom.
Alex is the protagonist and throughout the book, you can tell she has no problems taking revenge out violently, if the end result takes out a child molester, a rapist, or another vile kind of person. And she understands that her decisions were hers and hers alone. And Peekay & Jack are drawn to her, not because they knew what she was capable of, but because of her strength and her ability to remain standing while everything else was crumbling.
I picked this book up for selfish reasons. I wanted to read a book where an assailant got justice, vigilante or judicial. Mostly, I wanted to see someone with a harrowed past actually be talked about like they were human, instead of some space case where what has happened to them will be all they ever be. And this book broke my heart. It made me cry more times than I care to admit, not because anything necessarily sad happened. But because I know the themes all too well. Maybe not to this degree but Mindy McGinnis has a way of writing that even the coldest of hearts will have their muscle grow a few times too large after reading this. Even the Grinch couldn’t read this without a little change in soul.
Anyway, if you have the steadfast resolve to pick this book up and finish it cover to cover, be prepared for your insides to go through the ringer. Be prepared to question so many things and be at the ready to have things distorted for you.
Maybe it’s the current political climate, maybe it’s that women make up most of the purchasing decisions, but YA novels are becoming more and more nuanced with real, honest stories. ANd though I often feel a little old to be reading, it feels really great to know that a generation is being taught through novels that sexual assault is nuanced, gray, and horribly complicated. And according to this book, revenge is a dish best served cold.
Favourite quote: I wonder what would happen if I went down there, took a ball out of the cage, and pretended to have sex with it. I think people would stop & look….but boys will be boys, our favourite 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 eye roll.