My reading has slowed down a lot in recent years. I guess as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten slower, or maybe I just don’t have the time I used to. Point is, it’s been years since I read a book in one sitting…possibly since undergrad, even. Then my former housemate Ashley, a teen programming librarian, suggested I check out The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis.
I picked this book up at the library on my way home from work. By 8:30 that night I’d finished it. I was left sitting in my bed unsure of what to do with myself until I decided to go to sleep. The Female of the Species follows three teens in a small Ohio town. There’s Alex, whose older sister Anna was murdered just a few years earlier; Big Man on Campus Jack, the boy all the other boys want to be; and Peekay, the preacher’s kid.
Anna’s violent death was Alex’s baptism by fire into a violent life. It becomes almost all she knows – hurting, being hurt, avoiding being hurt. But there are cracks in the facade, and that’s where Peekay and Jack make their entrance. Peekay is introduced as the preacher’s sort of “wild child” daughter, though none of her behavior could really be called wild in today’s world. She drinks, she smokes, she fools around with her boyfriend, and she’s honestly a decent kid. The same could be said of Jack, who comes across as your average teenage guy. He’s good at sports, he has a decent relationship with his parents, and he has a somewhat tumultuous relationship with the school’s “easy” girl.
Alex and Peekay volunteer at the animal shelter, a job that’s presented with surprising realism. They don’t just get to play with cute puppies and kittens all day – they’re the ones who get called when someone dumps a bag of dead pups on the side of the road, and they have to watch as animals languish neglected and unwanted day after day. Meanwhile Jack, desperate to save up enough to get out of town, works at the local slaughterhouse. Our protagonists are thrown together their senior year with explosive consequences.
To quote Ashley, I’ve never seen the idea of “boys will be boys” presented so elegantly. Mistakes are made, and it’s the young and vulnerable ones who are left struggling to choose to do the right thing when they’re not even sure they’re worth the trouble. The hardest part is, there’s no “big baddie” to hate. Even the villains, McGinnis takes pains to explain, are people who made bad choices. The end of this novel hit me like a punch to the gut and left me reeling. It was like taking a swig of good whiskey – satisfying, but oh did it burn on the way down. I can’t remember the last time I read anything like it. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I have before.
I give Mindy McGinnis’s The Female Species 5/5 stars, and welcome it into the Devastator’s Book Club, an arrangement by which myself and several friends attempt to outdo each other with heartbreaking fiction. Seriously, read this book! You won’t regret it.