“The Female of the Species” by Mindy McGinnis is a commentary on justice, our society, small town life, and women’s mistreatment by ignorant — and at times savage — males. Her protagonists each tell the story in strong, individual voices that McGinnis does an excellent job of differentiating.
Alex is the meter-out-of-justice. When her sister was killed by a predator after being tortured, and the killer was not charged for the crime because of a lack of evidence, Alex decided to take justice into her own hands. The killer died a horrible death. Maybe not as horrible as the death that Anna, the sister, suffered, but it was not a quick end.
Alex deals out justice when she feels that someone has been wronged or that someone has escaped judgement. She is perfectly capable and willing to be the judge and executioner. She “feels too much” and she doesn’t understand why she can’t be the one to punish those who transgress. It doesn’t help that her father, who had her dark impulses (or so she believes) left the family when Alex was young and supports them lavishly from afar, and he mother is an alcoholic who lives each day in a haze of liquor. When Alex’s sister died, she was alone until she befriended Peekay and Jack.
Jack is the practically perfect senior all-around athlete, student, and handsome guy. He still feels some guilt over what he was actually doing when Anna’s body was discovered three years before — he was making out with his best friend/girlfriend Branley. But when fate throws Jack and Alex together, he falls for her like he’s never done before. And when he starts to realize that Alex is different in ways he never imagined, he doesn’t know what to do.
Peekay, a nickname for “Preacher’s Kid” is just that — the daughter of the local preacher. So when she drinks and makes out with her boyfriend, she worries that her parents will find out. She and Alex meet when both volunteer at the local animal shelter as part of their senior project. They bond unexpectedly and their friendship becomes an important part of both their lives.
The small town life is almost the fourth character in the story. Much is made of the fact that the parents of all the kids in town lived almost the same life as their children. The parents, as teenagers, all went to the same abandoned church to drink and make out. They all dated their friends’ parents — it’s almost incestuous. Jack especially doesn’t want to end up in the town, working hard to make ends meet. He’s determined to get a scholarship to college and never return to the small town. While he loves his parents — and he has great parents — he wants to make something of himself.
Events — including rape, child abuse, and drugs — come together to irrevocably change the lives of not only the three protagonists, but everyone in that small town.
The story is beautifully — and disturbingly — written. The reader falls just a bit in love with the three narrators and their problems and their very real dilemmas. McGinnis writes about the teenagers and gives them depth. She manages to infuse Jack’s persona with the very real truth that often young males follow their sexual urges instead of their common sense.
This is not a story for the weak of heart. It’s gripping, ugly at times, but wonderful in the touching manner in which three people form a connection with each other in a world that is too judgmental and demanding.
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Katherine Tegen Books, for review purposes.