Monday, January 1, 2018

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

If you've ever wondered what Dexter would be like if it starred a female teenager instead, read this book.

Alex's sister, Anna, was raped and dismembered. The police had a suspect but he was let go due to a lack of sufficient evidence. Then one day, he turned up dead; he'd been tied to a chair and tortured, with another empty chair sitting across from him. As if someone had sat there and watched him die.

Peekay/Claire is the preacher's daughter, hence the nickname "PK" or "preacher's kid." She's tired of being the good girl, though, and all the strings that come along with that.

Jack is your typical popular white jock-type - only he's not. He wants desperately to succeed, so he doesn't end up as yet another dead-end in their small town. And he's just aware enough of his privilege and entitlement that he feels the tiniest bit of guilt

All three of these kids end up converging, and the focal point is Alex: a girl who isn't like other girls. Her sister's death left her feeling hollow inside, filled her veins with barbed wire, and she's filling that void with anger. Anger at rape jokes, at rape, at sexual assault, at double-standards, at sexism, at objectification, at male entitlement. Anger at rape culture, which says that all of these things are, if not okay, then inevitable and therefore expected. So she does what you would expect of a budding psychopath -

She does something about it.

THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES is not an easy read, for many reasons. Rape, language, violence, gore, animal abuse, drugs. If this book hasn't been banned at least once, I'd be surprised. But as with most banned books, the content in here serves a purpose. It is a grim reminder that we haven't achieved true equality yet, and that all too often, we still slut-shame and still blame the victim.

The things that Alex does are wrong, but on same base and depraved level, there is something almost satisfying about her actions, too: when we watch TV dramas and read books, we want the bad guys to be punished. And in those stories, when the judicial and law enforcement channels fail us, people take matters into their own hands. I feel like this is a microcosm, a character study, and a cautionary tale all in one: in this small town, McGinnis shows the various forms sexism and rape culture can take; she shows how humanity exists on a spectrum, and how good people do bad things, and bad people do good things, and what a lot of it comes down to is intent and frequency; and she also shows the importance of enforcing the laws and taking ownership so people don't mete out vigilante justice.

I liked this book. It was upsetting and shocking, but it also had some really important messages. Give it a read, if you're up to it. Girl-Dexter is pretty fascinating to watch.

4 out of 5 stars

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