Release date: September 20, 2016
Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it. When her older sister, Anna, was murdered three years ago and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best. The language of violence. While her crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people, even in her small hometown. She relegates herself to the shadows, a girl who goes unseen in plain sight, unremarkable in the high school hallways.
But Jack Fisher sees her. He’s the guy all other guys want to be: the star athlete gunning for valedictorian with the prom queen on his arm. Guilt over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered hasn’t let him forget Alex over the years, and now her green eyes amid a constellation of freckles have his attention. He doesn’t want to only see Alex Craft; he wants to know her.
So does Peekay, the preacher’s kid, a girl whose identity is entangled with her dad’s job, though that does not stop her from knowing the taste of beer or missing the touch of her ex-boyfriend. When Peekay and Alex start working together at the animal shelter, a friendship forms and Alex’s protective nature extends to more than just the dogs and cats they care for.
Circumstances bring Alex, Jack, and Peekay together as their senior year unfolds. While partying one night, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting the teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever.
The Female of the Species is dark, despite that bright-looking cover. The book revolves around the Alex, a young girl with a lot of grief and anger that she has channeled into vengeance. Told from the revolving perspectives of Alex, Peekay and Jack, the story explores rape culture, male entitlement, grief and guilt. Jack has guilt over his actions during the events 3 years ago, when Alex’s older sister was found raped and murdered, rotting away in the forest. Finding her like that, Alex, who has always had a little problem with rage, descends into a dangerous mode that sees wrong and wants to right it, any way she can. Her grief manifests in a vigilance that she keeps, changes into a fierce protectiveness towards innocents. She forms a frienship with Peekay, and through this she leaves behind the loneliness she wraps around her little by little.
When you read the book, you appreciate how allegorical the title is. Alex, like a female of any other species, is violent to be protective. She is a kind girl, lovingly patient and caring to animals and her friends alike, but when they are threatened, she can’t stop herself. And it is not her rage, specifically that seeps out. That belongs to Peekay, who is angry at many things but doesn’t take it out, because that is not who she is. Alex, instead, has a calm inside her, an enlightenment that comes out in her words. She sees the good and bad in people, but doesn’t judge them. Well, only when they have done something unforgivable. But with her heart and feelings that came in when she opened it to Peekay and Jack, also comes guilt. Jack, for his part, is slowly falling in love with her, and his presence gives a normality to her life, a hope that not everyone looks at her and sees something to be afraid of.
It is also a commentary of the world, in which the actions of a girl are juxtaposed to the actions of a boy. When she attacks a would-be rapist, she is called crazy; the people around her more affected by her calling out the rape rather than the fact that it was apparent to all what was going to happen. She is, of course, extreme in her actions, but it also borne out of the cruelty in the world, so you see the tragedy behind it and can’t help but root for her. The secondary characters in the book are also written beautifully, and an intelligent portrayal of friendships, relationships and love shines through. The ending was heart-breaking, and despite that slight glimmer of brightness that came out of it, it is a hard one to get through. Actually, the whole book is bit hard, with the darkness and the mentions of sexual assault, and would be better recommended to mature readers (not for the strong language though, which cannot even be condemned when you have a book speaking of sexual assault) as there are some triggering elements.
Received a free galley from Katherine Tegen Books, via Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.