Day: September 12, 2016

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

Posted September 12, 2016 by Taryn in Reviews / 0 Comments

I received this book for free from Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnisThe Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
Published by HarperCollins on September 20th 2016
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Thrillers & Suspense, Social Themes, Violence, Law & Crime
Pages: 352
Source: Goodreads First Reads
Buy on Amazon

Young adult novel that addresses misogyny. It’s thought-provoking, but I was unable to connect to the story or the characters. Content warning: Drinking, drugs, sex, cursing, sexual assault, and animal cruelty.

We use objects to navigate spaces, making a map in our heads as neurons fire, pathways so well worn we don’t even know we reference them as we move from one location to the next, the same pattern. Every day. There are things in place to help us, signs in certain colors and shapes. Arrows pointing. Symbols indicating. Making your own framework is more entertaining more personal. Less contracting. (Alex)

Three years ago, Alex Craft’s sister was murdered. The justice system set the killer free, but Alex made sure he paid for his crimes. Alex’s darker impulses have led to her being a loner for her entire life, until she befriends two classmates during senior year. She becomes more social and starts to see there’s more to life than sitting at home, but one night her violent side is exposed and she sets a series of events in motion that will change her small town forever.

“Everyone thinks if you fix a male dog it will lower his aggression, but most of the biters are female. It’s basic instinct to protect their own womb. You see it in all animals–the female of the species is more deadly than the male.”
“Except humans,” the other girl volunteering says.

Alex is a fierce protector for those who are mistreated. I loved how Alex was quick to defend Branley when her peers start teasing her about her clothing or her sexual history. Alex is socially awkward because she has spent very little time with other people. She has spent most of her life at home with her books, which causes her to occasionally talk like a psychology textbook. I love how she’s so matter-of-fact! Despite the seriousness of the book, there are several conversations where she’s unintentionally hilarious. Jack is a star athlete who loves girls and wants to escape his small town as quick as possible. He is enamored with Alex. I didn’t like his chapters very much and I mostly wanted to punch him every time he talked about Branley, his friend with benefits. Jack can be annoying, but it seems that he might be going through the motions of life and playing a role he thinks he is expected to fill. While I wasn’t thrilled by Jack as a character, it was refreshing how his relationship with Alex developed gradually. However, my favorite relationship was the friendship between Peekay and Alex. Peekay is tired of being pigeonholed as the “preacher’s kid” and she can’t seem to escape that label no matter what she does. Alex and Peekay meet while working at an animal shelter. As their friendship develops, they both discover new aspects of themselves that they had never considered before. I loved how they supported each other and their last conversation in the book is especially sweet.

Sometimes after I’ve had a few beers I think about their parents–our grandparents–and then back further, to people who loved this place for a different reason. People who pulled rocks out of the ground to make the walls, cutting timber for a roof that has now rotted mostly away. The supports still in place are stained black from ashes of the generations that followed, our hands hard at work to tear it back down. (Jack)

I thought Branley was actually the most interesting character, even though we only see her through the other character’s perspectives. The motivations and personalities of the three main characters are clear from the beginning, but Branley is slowly revealed over the course of the story. She, like many of the other characters. is playing an expected role. She’s trying to get through life the best way she knows how and much of her public persona is based on what she thinks boys want from her. We witness brief glimpses of who she is when she doesn’t feel the pressure to perform that show that she’s more than the role she has been pigeonholed into by herself and others. There’s a scene where Branley is humiliated in front of all her classmates; she doesn’t say a word, but her reaction says it all. She is tough, yet vulnerable. She makes many costly mistakes, because of the harmful attitudes she has internalized.

‘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 eye roll. (Alex)

What I liked the most about this book are the conversations that it will inspire. I wasn’t emotionally engaged during the book, but I feel a sense of outrage when applying its messages to the real world. There’s a great passage at the beginning of the fourth chapter, where Alex discusses the general population’s inconsistent reasoning processes regarding animals and humans. My immediate thought was about the uneven level of public outrage when it comes to animal abuse cases versus domestic violence cases. There’s quite a bit of violence against animals in this book and I wondered if that was partially included for the reader to gauge the differences in their reactions to different kinds of victims. It also addresses double standards and how boys tend to be let off the hook for aggressive behaviors that girls are admonished for. How much of what’s excused as biological compulsion is actually learned behavior that continues because it’s blindly accepted? There are also scenes that confront girl’s attitudes towards other girls. At one point, Branley “steals” Peekay’s boyfriend and Peekay puts total blame on Branley. Alex helps her analyze her knee-jerk reaction and Peekay is able to see that she’s being unfair and how much of her reaction is due to habit. How much of our behavior is how we truly feel and how much is how we’ve been conditioned to feel? They also have a great conversation about acting on violent thoughts. There’s a lot to analyze in this book and I’m not even scratching the surface. If you enjoy the story, it’s one that’s definitely worth a reread. 

It’s a reflex, something that’s been ingrained in me. Do no harm. Be nice. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. But what if I don’t want to catch flies? What if I’d rather see them swatted? (Peekay)

I loved most of the messaging, but I just couldn’t break past the surface. The short chapters and the rotation of three narrators prevented me from settling into the story. Each character’s thoughts were repetitive. I never want to see the phrase “preacher’s kid” again! I wished the main villains wouldn’t have been so over-the-top, especially since the author did such a great job of illustrating casual, subtle misogyny throughout the rest of the book. I would’ve loved for the main villain was a seemingly normal classmate that they frequently interacted with, especially since the extreme cases were already covered. I saw the Dexter comparisons and expected the tone to be consistently darker. The YA novels that I tend to enjoy aren’t usually in a high school setting, so this may have just been a case of it being a little too YA for me.

Tonight they used the words they know, words that don’t bother people anymore. They said bitch. They told another girl they would put their dicks in her month. No one protested because this is our language now. But then I used my words, strung in phrases that cut deep, and people paid attention then; people gasped. People didn’t know what to think.
My language is shocking. (Alex)

I didn’t connect to the story or the characters, but it was thought-provoking. It definitely awakened my inner Olivia Benson! I haven’t been able to watch the news without thinking about it. The Female of the Species addresses double standards and societal attitudes towards victims and abusers. It prompts everyone to be more aware of harmful messages that we are exposed to every day and that we may be unintentionally spreading ourselves.  It encourages the reader to be being more thoughtful about how their own actions affect others and to stand up for those who need an advocate. It ends on the hopeful note that we are all capable of evolving as people and deviating from the standard path,

If the subject of this book interests you, you might be interested in reading All the Pretty Corpses, a short essay by Lauren Beukes.

Nothing is ours; nothing is sacred. The one thing we shared was pulled into pieces, memorialized and mythologized so that everyone could participate in it. When she was missing, Anna’s picture was tacked in so many places around town it’s what I see when I think of her, not her actual face. I see that picture next to a lost cat poster and a lawn-mowing service advertisment.
I learned later they did find that cat.(Alex)