Get ready to behold the cover for Mindy McGinnis‘s first contemporary YA novel! Mindy is the author of A Madness So Discreet as well as Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust. Up until this new book, The Female of the Species, Mindy’s book have all been either historical and dark or post-apocalytpic and dark. And this new book is going to be her first contemporary novel! But don’t worry, it’s still going to be dark. (We hope.)
About The Female of the Species
Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it.
Three years ago, when her older sister was murdered and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best. The language of violence. But when her own crime goes unpublished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people. Not with Jack, the star athlete who wants to know her better. Not with Peekay, the preacher’s kid who befriends Alex while they volunteer at an animal shelter. Not anyone.
As senior year unfolds, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, sending these three on a collision course that will change their lives forever.
The Female of the Species goes on sale September 20, 2016.
Now it’s time to see the book cover!
Intrigued? We couldn’t handle the thought of waiting seven months to read this one, so we begged Mindy to just give us a little peek. So here’s the first four chapters!
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.
I watch these little exchanges. They evolve in seconds, from I get paid to smile at you to the facial muscles going lax when recognition hits, the price scanner making a feeble attempt to break the silence by making a beep-beep when his food goes past.
I know this pattern but watch it anyway. The bread, the cheese, the wine, and the crackers that sometimes he will crumble and put out for the birds—a tiny crack of kindness that makes him all the more hateful. Because if there’s a version of him that feeds birds as winter descends, then there is a decency that he chose to overlook when he did other things. Other things that also fed the birds. And the hawks. And the raccoons. And the coyotes. All the animals that took mouthfuls of my sister, destroying any chance of proving he killed her.
But I’m not a court, and I don’t need proof.
I know this road, the one that leads out of town. He’ll take a right where the bridge has been out for a decade, then follow the gravel that shoots to the left, each path becoming more decrepit than the last. From two lanes to one, from paved to gravel, and then just dirt. Dirt leading into the woods.
I know all these things because I’ve seen them every day for months. I’m just a girl trying to get in shape this summer, shedding the last baby fat as my womanhood emerges. How clean I look. How fresh and hopeful and one with the outdoors as I strain to make it up the hill, and then exuberant as I fly down the other side, hair streaming behind, enjoying my earned reward. This is what people think when they see me.
The few people who live out here wave as I go past, awkwardly at first, but later in recognition. As the days get hotter, one elderly lady waits at the end of her driveway every day with a glass pitcher of lemonade. She knows exactly what time I will pass her house, and my drink is always cold, the ice cubes clinking against my teeth.
I do this at first so that it won’t be odd that I’m there on that day. I’ve come to like it, the way my legs have become all muscle and how my hair smells like wind hours later. I like the lemonade, too. I almost look forward to seeing the old lady. But I never let it distract me.
Because this is not how I get in shape and make new friends.
This is how I kill someone.
And it’s a simple process, really. His hand hesitates for a second when he sees me pause at the end of his driveway. Yes, he’s one of the people who wave. He sits on his porch most of the day, a middle-aged man who might be handsome if you don’t look closely into his eyes and identify what lurks there. Every day the sun rises and the wine bottle empties and he sits there wondering where his life went wrong until it sets again.
I know exactly where. I’ll explain that to him.
He’s lonely. So when I stop for the first time ever, I almost feel bad when his face lights up. Almost. Because immediately following that pure smile of a human being who craves the company of another human being, his eyes flick down to my tank top, where my breasts heave up and down as I catch my breath. And we’re not two human beings anymore.
We’re a male and a female.
Alone in the woods.
And I lie, say that I’m winded, need to sit down for a minute. And part of him knows he shouldn’t do this. The part that crumbles up crackers and feeds them to birds knows that he shouldn’t bring me out of the sun into the darkness of his house. But another part wants to.
And it’s much stronger.
I go, smiling when he holds the screen door open for me. It makes my nose scrunch up and draws attention to my freckles, which everyone says make me so cute. They have no idea.
I walk inside, into the cool shadows, pretending not to hear when he flicks the lock on the screen door. Then I turn around, and tell him who I am.
This is how I kill someone.
And I don’t feel bad about it.
The thing about Alex Craft is, you forget she’s there.
I didn’t give her much thought until we were freshmen, champing at the bit to help with search parties for her sister. We enjoyed pretending to be adults, the feeling that we were actually doing something, even though most of us forgot to check the batteries on our flashlights and Park had a baggie in his pocket that stopped our searching cold once we were out of sight of the real adults.
Branley actually packed a snack, like we were going camping or something. To be fair, after the baggie was empty, we were totally thrilled and she was our hero, just like she wanted. She sat on my lap that night, happy to squirm right where she knew I liked it. And I didn’t stop her. I’ve never stopped Branley. Still haven’t learned how.
So our hero was the girl who brought Doritos to chase our weed, and a few yards away from where we sat, an actual hero found the body. Parts of it, anyway. We didn’t even notice the gathering flashlights until the girl Park was with made a noise when he got her in just the right place, and they swung toward us.
I’ve thought about it a lot in the three years since, how we must’ve looked in that glare. Branley’s “Find Anna” shirt shoved up over her tits, my pants around my ankles, all of us with red-rimmed eyes and big oh shit looks on our faces.
The guy out in front was all rugged-looking, dirty beard and a hat, a loose jacket. The kind of guy who I thought would laugh and tell us to keep on going while he kept the light on us. But he never even glanced at Branley or Park’s girl while they yanked their clothes in place. Instead he looked right at me and said, “Get the fuck out of here, douchebags.”
I was so busy tucking it all back in I thought everybody was pissed because of us, that their faces were set hard and their lights were pointing at the ground because they didn’t want to know—for sure—what we’d been doing. But that wasn’t it.
Her hand was sticking up out of the dirt, stripped to the bone, the gnawed-on skin peeled back to the wrist. I froze in the act of pulling up my zipper. I didn’t know then that once the area was cordoned off, parts of Anna Craft would be found all over the place. I thought it was a shallow grave she’d tried to dig herself out of, with me a few yards away doing my best to pound a different girl down into the ground.
“What?” Branley had said, eyes on my face as always, completely missing that they’d found what we were supposed to be looking for.
I left her. I did exactly what that guy said and turned around and got the fuck out of there. I ran because one of the faces in that circle of light was Alex Craft, a girl I’d gone to school with my whole life, a girl who sometimes you don’t see. I saw her then, as she reached down to touch her sister’s dirt-streaked fingers, like a kid digging up a toy that got mired in the sandbox. And I haven’t been able to unsee her since.
This is what I think about when she brushes past me on the first day of our senior year, her dark hair swinging as she walks, face still wearing the hard mask I saw that night, like it’s permanently set.
I wonder if she heard that guy call me a douchebag.
And I want to know if she agrees.
Because I sure as hell do.
I have a name, but everyone just calls me Peekay because I’m the PK—Preacher’s Kid. I’m thinking about this because my name—or at least my nickname—should be somewhere in the pic Sara just sent me, a screencap she snatched off my boyfriend’s phone while he was passed out at a party. A screencap of increasingly dirty sexting that should alternate between Adam and Peekay but instead says Adam and Branley.
I toss my phone into the passenger seat and focus on not crying while I wait for the woman from the animal shelter to arrive and unlock the building. My leg is bouncing up and down while I burn off my anger, the car keys jangling against my knee. I yank them out of the ignition when I spot the beaded key chain that says “Peekay & Adam 4-Ever.” It’s made out of letters and footballs and hearts, the paint rubbed away in spots from years of friction as it passed in and out of my jeans pocket.
“Fucker,” I say, and break the black cord that holds them all together, sending letters and hearts and footballs all over my car.
I’m not supposed to say that word, because I’m a preacher’s kid. But I’m also not supposed to drink beer or know what a dick smells like, so language is the least of my sins. My phone makes a noise at me, one that used to make me dive for it in the middle of the night, breathless and happy. A noise that used to send my stomach up in my throat. Except now that organ is definitely going another way, and I get out of my car so I don’t have to look at the screen all lit up with his name, hearts on either side of it. Some beads roll out behind me and one crunches under my foot as I get out.
It’s the “&.”
More pieces fall out onto the gravel and I hear another car. I tuck my hands up into the sleeves of my hoodie because it’s colder than it’s supposed to be today (thanks, Ohio) and I’m ready to get inside the shelter and start my Senior Year Experience.
On my grade card it will say SYE—Animal Shelter Volunteer, and that will probably be followed by a capital A, nicely aligned with all the others. I have a very different idea about what constitutes a Senior Year Experience, and Adam was supposed to be a part of that. Until now.
I stomp my foot, telling myself I’m doing it to keep warm, and that the little heart charm that has now been ground into a fine powder had nothing to do with it. The other car pulls up next to mine, but it’s not the lady from the shelter. It’s another student, and it takes me a second to place her as she gets out of the car.
Actually, that’s kind of a lie. I know exactly who she is, I just can’t remember her name. So I’m standing there, my fists balled up in fabric and my feet smacking against the ground, when I say, “Hey, Anna. You volunteering here for SYE?”
She looks at me for second before I realize what I just did.
“I’m Alex,” she says.
“I know, right. Yeah, I totally know,” I say, my words falling out all over each other. “It’s just—”
“It’s just that when you look at me all you think about is my older sister, so your brain offers that name instead.”
“Yeah,” I say, more than a little set back by her factual presentation, like I’m a science fair judge instead of a girl who just put her foot in her mouth.
“Yeah,” she echoes back at me, then moves toward the shelter. Which, it turns out, was unlocked.
I watch her walk away from me, back rigid, and I think it’s going to be a long Senior Year Experience. Then I hear my phone again, insistently making its Adam noise, and I think about those texts between him and Branley Jacobs and that word slips out of me again.
It’s cold enough that it makes a fog in front of my mouth when I say it, and even though I brushed good this morning I can smell stale beer. So there’s the word and the beer, all hanging there together in the air, and my dad would probably be really disappointed in me right now. Also because I know what a dick smells like. Or what Adam’s does, anyway.
But just his.
It’s easier to like animals than people, and there’s a reason for that.
When animals make a stupid mistake, you laugh at them. A cat misjudges a leap. A dog looks overly quizzical about a simple object. These are funny things. But when a person doesn’t understand something, if they miscalculate and hit the brakes too late, blame is assigned. They are stupid. They are wrong. Teachers and cops are there to sort it out, with a trail of paperwork to illustrate the stupidity. The faults. The evidence and incidents of these things. We have entire systems in place to help decide who is what.
Sometimes the systems don’t work.
Families spend their weekend afternoons at animal shelters, even when they’re not looking for a pet. They come to see the unwanted and unloved. The cats and dogs who don’t understand why they are these things. They are petted and combed, walked and fed, cooed over and kissed. Then they go back in their cages and sometimes tears are shed. Fuzzy faces peering through bars can be unbearable for many.
Change the face to a human one and the reaction changes.
The reason why is because people should know better.
But our logic is skewed in this respect. A dog that bites is a dead dog. First day at the shelter and I already saw one put to sleep, which in itself is a misleading phrase. Sleep implies that you have the option of waking up. Once their bodies pass unconsciousness to something deeper where systems start to fail, they revolt a little bit, put up a fight on a molecular level. They kick. They cry. They don’t want to go. And this happens because their jaws closed over a human hand, ever so briefly. Maybe even just the once.
But people, they get chances. They get the benefit of the doubt. Even though they have the higher logic functioning and they knew when they did it THEY KNEW it was a bad thing.
The shelter is running a neuter-and-spay clinic next month. One of my jobs this morning is to get the mail, fighting the urge to throw a rock at a speeding car when the driver wolf-whistles at me. The mailbox is full of applications for the clinic, most of them for dogs but a handful of cats as well. Rhonda, the lady who runs the shelter, has me sort them out, dogs and cats, male and female.
Rhonda snorts when she sees all the male dogs on the roster. “People don’t learn,” she says.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“Everyone thinks if you fix a male dog it will lower his aggression, but most of the biters are female. It’s basic instinct to protect their own womb. You see it in all animals—the female of the species is more deadly than the male.”
“Except humans,” the other girl volunteering says.
The phone rings. I answer, saying, “Tri-County Animal Shelter, this is Alex,” instead of saying to the girl, “You wouldn’t be in a position to know.”
Which is what had been on the tip of my tongue.
We dare you to read this and not immediately wish you could just binge the whole thing now. Hurry up, September!!