Hello everyone, and welcome back!
I’m not exactly off to an overwhelming start on this month’s reading, having read this whopping one book, but I’m hoping I can start to catch up through the next week. This book was, at least, a good start, because it was really easy to get through, despite some tough subject matter.
And on that note, let’s get right to it, shall we?
The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
This book alternates perspectives between Alex, the loner girl who killed her sister Anna’s rapist/murderer and got away with it; Jack, the boy at the top of the social order who’s into her; and Peekay, the preacher’s kid who gets to know Alex as they volunteer together at an animal shelter.
This book is very much about rape culture. It’s about all the ways that young women are trained to be vigilant, what happens when they’re not because they’re just trying to live their lives, and what happens when they are but it happens anyway. It’s about the ways people blame girls and women for it happening.
It’s about the trauma of those violations or even the trauma of knowing it has happened to someone you care about, is happening around you, and trying to reconcile that with having to live in society. It’s about the people who say nothing because they’re afraid someone won’t believe them or they’re afraid of the social consequences or they’re afraid because it’s a person they know.
(This book doesn’t really deal with the complication of not being believed legally, in terms of police and courts and so on, which is a Real Issue. The only cop-character is quite sympathetic. Because of that, the novel loses a bit of complexity and reality, at least to me. While I sympathize with wanting to convey the message that it’s a positive thing to always report these situations and to want to feel comfortable doing so, I think that most women, teens included, are aware it’s not always that simple, so this book providing a sort of “easy out” to that through that particular character feels like it simply didn’t want to grapple with that issue.)
Obviously, given the subject matter I’m describing, and given that Alex has murdered and feels violent and some ways unsafe for those around her, The Female of the Species is a pretty dark book. But it’s also one with a surprising amount of humour and of hope. Despite her dark nature, Alex is learning to open up, and her intensity vs. the silliness that crops up in teenage life can be wickedly funny. Young women being there for other young women in awful situations or simply when boys pit them against each other is always good to read, for me.
I know this happens rarely, but here it is: I just don’t have very many bones to pick with this book. Other than the one issue it dodges above, it really deals with its subject matter pretty well.
On the other hand, I know this happens all the time, but here it is: this is a reasonably short book, and one thing I might have changed about it might have been giving certain things a few more pages. A couple of the side characters felt important but largely underdeveloped (Alex’s parents, Peekay’s best friend) and the continual action of the book sometimes makes me feel like we don’t get to know the mains as well as we could. (They’re mostly archetypes with small twists: Alex is a murderer who cares about people, loves animals; Jack is an alpha jock but poor, smart; Peekay is a Nice Person but slightly rebellious at her label, raging at her ex.)
There is a power to the sparseness and focus of this book, so I don’t think learning everything about these people or dragging the action out would be helpful, but there are a few things (like Alex’s musings that she’s too much like her father) that might’ve been clarified by knowing some characters better.
In any case: really, overall, this book handles difficult material really well, there’s some lovely writing in terms of imagery, the perspective characters are all interesting in their own ways, and the story in its entirety is pretty powerful. If/when you are up to read about this stuff (it usually veers away from being graphic, but there are a few explicit moments, be warned), this is very worth the time.
What are the best books you’ve read that are difficult to read because of the subject? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!