Anna Craft was killed in the woods. “Killed” is an understatement – she was mutilated, her body parts were scattered, and the man responsible for her death was never put behind bars. Her sister, Alex, was devastated and brokenhearted. She was left in darkness so darkness she became.
The Female of the Species follows 3 characters: Peekay – the preacher’s kid, Jack – a famous boy but with brains and heart, and the main character, Alex – the odd one out. Set in a realistic time where rape culture is prevalent, this novel is impactful, relevant, and hard-hitting.
The Female of the Species is rich with themes and messages that are timely in today’s context. There is the talk of feminism, rape culture, being comfortable in one’s skin, and even justice system. Bear in mind that this is a young adult novel, and frankly, this is the Y.A. novel we all deserve. This is more than just a Y.A. contemporary, this is also a social commentary.
(There are so many things to say about this book so please bear with me on this write-up. I will divide this into two so it will be more organized and easier to read.)
Books with multiple perspectives are not my cup of tea. It always feels like we are being robbed of a deeper and richer characterization if the book is focusing on multiple characters instead of developing one main character. However, Mindy McGinnis executed this perfectly. In some books, when they have multiple perspectives, sometimes the voices of the characters are similar and the purpose of having different POVs is put to waste. In this book, the differences in the characters’ voices are evident. It is clear that the way of thinking and speaking of the characters reflect their identity. There is Alex with deep and profound thoughts. On the other hand, Peekay’s voice sounds like any other teenage girl. This writing style is effective in creating a book with multiple perspectives because there is no point in having different perspectives if their voices are similar.
The main voice of this story is Alex Craft, the female protagonist we all deserve. She is morally gray with questionable actions, and yet she is also just your normal teenager trying to survive high school. She is unapologetic when it comes to her violence and rage and this is where her character gets complicated. This is a girl trying to seek vengeance and in doing so, she became it. Alex Craft is one of the most interesting and layered characters in the world of young adult literature. There should be more characters like her – not in the murderous sense, but in the complexity aspect. Complexity in terms of characterization and their depth as a character. It is always refreshing to see complex and morally gray characters in Y.A. because they are not common in Y.A. contemporary.
In relation to common things in Y.A. contemporary, this book brings out one of the aspects that books in this sub-genre is lacking: The presence of parental figures. It is not frequent that we see parents in Y.A. but in this book, they are present and they contribute to the story. They give advice and it is shown that they do care about their kids’ wellbeing. This is such a natural and mundane thing but it is important to show parental figures because it makes the story much more realistic. Also, it just makes sense that they are the ones who are giving advice because they have experiences and they did what the kids are doing in their lives. They have been in that stage and it is perfectly fine to guide them and overlook their actions. Mindy McGinnis did a great job in inserting parental figures in this narrative and it helped deepen the story further.
There is really no formula here so it is hard to predict what’s going to happen next. In most Y.A. novels, it is easy to figure out where the story is going like the main character having a certain goal to achieve or that the main character has to face obstacles in their life or journey. But in The Female of the Species, you do not know what is going to happen next because the character does not have any goals to achieve – she is just existing in the present. This is a refreshing way of telling a story because for once, it is hard to predict every single beat in the flow of the story. This breaks the hero’s archetype and it is well-executed.
The story is poignant, every element is well-executed, the writing is beautiful, and the characters are interesting and alive. But the story and characters are not the shining stars in this book, it is the messages and themes that the story is carrying.
One of the main themes in this book is the rape culture and how it is a normal thing in society. It is messed up and yet it has become so normalized. A lot of people think that it is fine to assault someone because they think they will never get caught. People think that it is okay to call someone a “bitch” because apparently, it’s the norm now. This is what society has come to, this is what humanity has become.
Assaulters never get caught because no one reports them. People usually do not report sexual assaults because they are scared that no one would believe them. It is upsetting that the burden of proof goes to the victim, adding more harm and trauma to them. In The Female of the Species, McGinnis highlighted this in the most simple way, by using this line: “I’ll believe you.” (p.65). It is so simple that some people might overlook it but the fact that the officer said this means a lot. This means that some officers do not believe reports of harassment and they will most likely brush that report off. But not in this book. This empowers people to report situations because the police will back them and they will believe the report. A single line in a book carries so much strength and power that amplifies the importance of the justice system and how they could help the ones in need.
Another thing about sexual assault is the notion that attractive people are the only ones that get attacked. But here’s the thing: Attractiveness and clothing has nothing to do with it. It is unbelievable that some people believe that no one would rape a girl/boy if they are not attractive. This is not the case, folks. And this is brought up in a conversation between Alex and Peekay. Alex said, “Physical attractiveness has nothing to do with it… It happened to you but it could’ve been anyone. Opportunity is what matters, nothing else.” (p. 157). Predators go for the easy prey, not the pretty ones. It does not matter what clothes someone was wearing. It does not matter what they look like. What matters is their vulnerability. No one is asking for it. It is time to stop the notion that only attractive people get raped. It is time to stop this kind of thinking. It only harms the victims and empowers the perpetrators even more.
The talk of being sexually active is also included here. There was a scene where a guy was humping a basketball and pretending that he was having sex with the object. People ignored him, they shook their heads, they stared, but no one called him out. They did not bat an eye because that is what boys should be doing, right? Because boys will be boys. Alex said, “But 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.” (p. 202). The double standards when it comes to sex is being highlighted in this section and it is done beautifully. Showing the contrast between boys being sexually active and people seeing it as a normal thing compared to when girls do it and it is like they committed an unforgivable crime.
The Female of the Species is a well-written young adult novel that carries multiple significant lessons. This book has great characters, plot, and writing. No one could ask for more. This is the young adult novel we all deserve. It is not only beautiful, but most importantly, it is relevant.