Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Book Review: "The Female of the Species" by Mindy McGinnis

"This is how I kill someone. I learn his habits, I know his schedule. It is not difficult. His life consists of quick stops to the dollar store for the bare minimum of things required to keep this ragged cycle going, his hat pulled down over his eyes so as not to be recognized. But he is. It's a small town."

Alex Craft's life was turned upside down three years earlier when her older sister Anna was murdered. The killer was exonerated, but it was clear to nearly everyone in their small town that he was guilty. Alex takes matters into her own hands, and the killer was found brutally tortured and murdered. But no one seems particularly broken up about it, and if anyone suspects Alex, their suspicions go nowhere.

As she goes through high school, she keeps to herself. She's known as the girl with the murdered sister, and she keeps herself occupied by reading and running. She doesn't mind her lonely existence—the fact is, she doesn't really trust herself around other people, because if she finds someone who raises her anger for a serious crime, she might act again in the way she did with her sister's killer. She doesn't have a problem with that, honestly, but she knows others will.

"I'm not fine, and I doubt I ever will be. The books didn't help me find a word for myself; my father refused to accept the weight of it. And so I made my own. I am vengeance."

While Alex steels herself for another situation that might provoke her instincts, she is utterly unprepared for connecting with other people, and senior year brings two intense connections—Peekay, the slightly rebellious preacher's daughter, who befriends Alex when they volunteer at an animal shelter, and Jack, the school's top athlete and biggest playboy, who is drawn to Alex in ways even he can't understand, and to the distinct satisfaction of his longtime friend-with-benefits, star cheerleader (and most beautiful girl in school), Branley.

Peekay awakens Alex's protective nature (and causes her to step outside her comfort zone), and Jack actually makes her feel special, feel wanted, feel as if what makes her so different than everyone else might not be such a deal-breaker after all.

But as senior year unfolds, and Alex's relationships intensify with both Peekay and Jack, she realizes she cannot hide who she really is, what she is driven to do. She tries as hard as she can, but her need to avenge mistreatment, violence, wrongdoing by taking matters into her own hands always wins out. She doesn't want there to be secrets, especially between her and Jack, but she knows if he discovers who she really is, they have no chance at a future anyway, so she may as well fulfill the role she feels destined to.

"There are parts of yourself that you hate; parts that you know other people wouldn't understand."

All I can say about this book is holy crap. (And that's a cleaned-up version.) This seems to be a year of unforgettable, unique characters—Letty Dobesh in Blake Crouch's Good Behavior; Julian in Robin Roe's A List of Cages; Ivan Isaenko in Scott Stambach's The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko; and Evan Smoak in Gregg Hurwitz's Orphan X, just to name a few. Yet no character is like Alex Craft. She's like a cross between Lisbeth Salander and Dexter, but with more vulnerability and heart. (And I say that not to discount this book as simply a gruesome thriller, because it is so much more than that.)

Mindy McGinnis does something I've not seen in a book recently, particularly a YA book: she conveys a strong message without making the story heavy-handed or preachy. While she clearly isn't recommending that people avenge murder, rape, and other violence, she is saying that women (and men) shouldn't allow themselves to live in fear or shame, to remain a victim. I hope that message reaches the ears of those who need to hear it.

I thought this book was really amazing. It's certainly not for everyone, and it's not realistic, but that didn't detract from its appeal in any way. This is book with tremendous heart and emotion, suspense, and some violence which might be troubling for some. But McGinnis knows how to tell a story that hooked me from start to finish, and it's a story populated by characters I won't soon forget. Truly a home run, as far as I'm concerned.

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