“This is how I kill someone.”
That sentence signals, buckle up, we’re going for a ride.
“Dedication: For the victims.”
The dedication tells you the ride is going to be bumpy.
I have been a fan of Mindy McGinnis since I read her duology, Not a Drop to Drink. Her writing style is enthralling, plunging me into some dark subjects and tones, but done in such a way, that I often forget to expect it. This book was no different.
The Female of the Species, is my favorite read of the year. I had heard a lot of hype about this book. Hype scares me. Not that I haven’t been swept away in the rush of a popular book. I have and often. But, there’s always a lingering worry. Maybe it’s just hype. That worry was completely unnecessary.
Even with the opening line, the narration falls into such simple rhythms of high school life, that it’s easy to forget the violence in the beginning. Even though we are reminded of it, lightly and then all at once, over and over throughout the book.
This is a book full of lingering questions. It seems like March was a month for books that crept into the depths of my subconscious. Books that made me question everything I thought I knew. Everything I thought I believed.
What makes up a persons moral character? At what point is an action right, or wrong? Does that change if the action is violent? Is there ever justification in finding your own form of justice, when justice seems elusive?
We follow the narration of three high school students. Jack and Alex, both competing for valedictorian, and Peekay, the preacher kid, or P.K.; hence the nickname. They meet, and their lives become intertwined, even though they have grown up together in the way of small towns.
Alex is the main character. Even though there are three narrations, the plot follows her. The other narrations orbit around her, their lives impacted irrevocably by hers. The question of right and wrong, answered differently by both. Peekay leaning one way, Jack the other. Leaving Alex in the middle, wondering where she fits and where she belongs.
We live in a muddy world. In a world where good things happen to bad people. Where right and wrong can be politicized and weaponized. “Anger makes you tired, but guilt keeps you from falling asleep.” Sums up the world we often face. We want to be angry at injustice, but find ourselves guilty instead. We are tired, yet we cannot sleep.
That guilt is misleading. Are we guilty if we take action. Or if we don’t. Maybe both. Maybe there is no way to avoid the guilt, or the anger. In a world where there are no clear answers, hell, there may not be an answer, McGinnis forces us to ask: how do we move forward? How do we decide how to proceed?
This book is a YA. It is set in High School. The characters are adolescents planning where they will go to college and what they will major in. Yet, these juvenile characters are forced to grapple with these questions. They are forced to look violence, and injustice, and unfairness dead in the eye and make decisions they can live with. The fact that they have to do this, highlights the injustice so many young people face.
The brilliance in this book is we know from the beginning the subject matter will be heavy. We know we will face victims, and violence. We even suspect there will be murder. Yet, somehow, she makes us laugh before she makes us cry. She makes us love before she horrifies us. And throughout it all, she lulls us into complacency.
This novel deals with life in it’s messiest form.
I realize that there are many, many people in the world who have never been victimized. Who may not even know someone who has. I’m incredibly happy for you. Really, I am. I wish there were more people like that. I wish that horrors of life were confined to the pages of fiction. Where we can close the cover, shiver to ourselves, and thank the heavens that those horrors are confined to stories. I wish.
We do not live in that world, though. We live in one where bad things do happen. They happen often. And they happen to people who don’t deserve it. They happen to teenagers everywhere.
So I applaud books like these. Books who can help open the eyes of those who may not know victims. Books who can help victims themselves feel less alone. Books that make us all question harder, tougher issues. Books that make us think. Books that make us feel.
The opening was shocking. And the end is shocking. But this is the moral I think. Often, we need to be shocked into action. Jolted into decision.
Sometimes life is full of violence. Sometimes it is tragic and unjust. Sometimes the ones doing good, are also the ones in the wrong. Sometimes doing nothing is worse than doing something. And sometimes, vice versa.
It’s an ending that doesn’t leave you. It stays with you, whispering while you watch the news. It lingers in your head, the questions altering your view, changing how you see things.
“I am vengeance.”
The books didn’t help her understand what she was, where she fit. So she did the best she could. Perhaps books like this help those without a voice, without a place find their way.
***** this book deals with sexual assault, violence and homicide. Please read with caution.