Monday, November 7, 2016

the female of the species: stardust reviews

The Female of the Species
Mindy McGinnis



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.

full review under the cut!

 Wow, guys. 

I just finished this book a few minutes ago, and to be honest, my mind is reeling with so many thoughts, all going in so many different directions, so I'm not sure how coherent this review is going to be, but I think this is one of the most important books that I've ever read, so I'm going to endeavor to be clear. I type this on the eve of the American Presidential Election, and probably the most important one I have ever and maybe will ever be a part of. I cast my vote early, and I cried a little bit as I thought about the implications of the first female president. I am proud to support her. This book is about rape culture and a society that normalizes sexual abuse, and, bear with me, I think it correlates. How many lewd comments or terrible jokes have we all heard at Hillary's expense? So many that it feels normal, at this point, at least for me. And yet, every time, it grates on me. It makes me grit my teeth and I wonder... how can we just brush these kinds of comments off? There is an underlying threat of violence to each one of them. It is inescapable, even if the speaker would never actually act on it. Violence that is just as casually flung at Hillary Clinton as it is at women we know, women we pass on the street. Everyone is guilty of it, at least thinking horrible things about other women. I think I'm just emotional right now because I can't stand the thought of a racist, misogynistic demagogue becoming the "leader" of our country, but the way McGinnis talks about sexual assault and the way humanity deals with it makes me think about Hillary Clinton and how she has dealt with the basest parts of humanity for most of her life, and has come out stronger for it. This book shows how we have to be better, and it shows it in such a real way that it took my breath away. I know this is a long and kind of terrible way to begin a review, but it was on my mind as I was finishing this book, so there you go! The longest political discussion that you will ever get from me!!! AND NOW back to our regularly scheduled programming... let's chat about the book.

So, basically I just have a small trigger warning here, because there are some pretty graphic descriptions of violence in this book, in the form of rape and actual physical violence. So if that is something that you definitely cannot handle, then I would stay away from this one. Because, while I think it is extremely effective and a really well done part of the book, I know that it could be triggering for some people. 

Basically, this book revolves around Alex, who is a senior in high school, and is probably one of the most complicated and intense protagonists(?) i've ever read. When she was younger, I think a Freshman, she lost her sister, Anna. Anna was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by a local man. They found her body in pieces. And while Alex wasn't exactly the most normal kid before Anna's death, afterwards she is something else altogether. This isn't spoilery because it literally tells you in the blurb, but Alex figures out that she can get away with things, even murder. Especially if it is the murder of the man who killed her sister. 

We pick up the narrative after this, though, at the start of Alex's senior year. She is just getting by, in her own little world, not close to anyone, wrapped up in injustice and noticing the small and seemingly insignificant things that make society sexist and gross. Her perspective is so interesting, because McGinnis picks up on things that I usually never stop to think about, but once they were pointed out to me, I realize how gross they are. Things like when boys pretend to have sex with inanimate objects, just to get a laugh out of their friends, or the fact that drawings of penises are considered normal, or the phrase "boys will be boys," and the fact that boys don't get held accountable for their actions in the way that girls do, especially when they're young. I just thought that Mindy McGinnis did an awesome job of giving examples that were so real that they resonated with me, and I very clearly can see the places that they have touched my own life. Even in the way that the girls talk about the other girls, it is interesting for Alex to be the narrator, because she is untouched by the social muck and can see slut-shaming and unnecessary competition between girls for what it is: bullshit. Alex being an outsider is great for us to see the terrible things that our culture does to normalize sexual assault. 

The other important characters in this novel are Peekay and Jack. Peekay (real name Claire, Peekay being a nickname for P.K. aka Preacher's Kid) is a relatively normal kid, the daughter of the town preacher, who is getting over being cheated on and dumped by her (ex-)boyfriend, who she is still trying to get over. She meets Alex as they both volunteer for the local animal shelter. They bond over their mutual love of animals, and soon Peekay finds herself drawn to Alex, no matter how odd she is. The girls form a real connection, and I absolutely loved their friendship. It was so awesome, the support that these ladies gave each other. Tough love? Yes. But also unending loyalty? also yes. Peekay was a great character. I liked how she started out kind of mired in the world that Alex is outside of, but her friendship with Alex kind of wakes her up and exposes her to the harsh realities of sexism. Her development was really great, because she learned how to respect herself and also other girls! 

Jack is... complicated. I liked him and I didn't. At first, I wasn't sure if he was going to end up like physically assaulting someone, but then it became clear that he was actually a pretty good guy, underneath a whole lot of bluster. He's arrogant and confident, as only a Big Man on Campus trope can be, but, like Peekay, when he becomes close to Alex, he kind of wakes up. I like that McGinnis didn't shy away from writing him as kind of a grade A douche, but then giving him a place to go from there. I guess in the end I did like him, he ended up being loyal and sweet to Alex, but I definitely had mixed feelings about him in the beginning, which I think is a testament to the narration, because we get to see a lot from his POV. 

I also really enjoyed the side characters. Sara, Peekay's best friend, sole lesbian in a sea of heterosexual sex addicts, and amazing BFF character. I love that she doesn't begrudge Peekay when she becomes closer to Alex, and actually ends up making an effort to get to know the other girl instead of getting jealous. Park, who is Jack's best friend, did not get off to the best start, not unlike Jack himself. But he turned out to be more than met the eye, and though I was expecting him to be like a really douchey class clown type, he turned out to have a lot of depth and was actually a good guy. And Branley... probably the most complicated character in the novel, and I loved it. I feel like we've all known a Branley. Perfect, always dressed to the nines, always flaunting what she has, always with a guy. We've all known her and we've all judged her. This book made me think of all the Branley's I've known, then slammed me with guilt for judging them without really knowing them. I think the point of this book is that there is a deeper side to everyone, and girls hating girls without really knowing them isn't helping anyone. 

Yes, I loved this book. But not in the way that I love a lot of other books. I love a lot of other books because they are comfortable and pleasant and fun to read. I loved this book because it is messy and violent and visceral and because it has felt more real to me than most of the other things that I've read in my life. It is a really gritty representation of rape culture and what we should do about it, and McGinnis is not afraid to get in the weeds and be graphic and violent. I think there is something to be said for the shock value of these scenes, but I also think they give the story more than that. They make it so these things are impossible to ignore. I think a lot of time, we don't want to talk about sexual assault or rape or violence towards women. We sweep it under the rug and discount it because "he's such a nice boy.' I think that, in describing the things that she does in the detail that she describes them, Mindy McGinnis is saying "HEY. LOOK AT THIS. Look at it head on and know that it happens all the time. And it is all of our faults." And that hit really hard for me. I would have a hard time forgetting this book, and I don't want to. You should read it too.


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