Typical teenage boy, Sam is annoyed that his dad has suddenly up and suggested that they, along with his older college-age brother Jeff, spend their entire summer in the Outer Banks of NC. His dad seems to think it will be “the best summer ever,” but Sam thinks his optimism is a little pathetic in light of recent events. His mother had one day just left, no note, no warning except to tell Sam a half-hearted goodbye. He’d heard she was chasing after some sort of man-hating nonsense to “Women’s Land”, whatever that was. It’d been five months, and his dad had been going through periods of extreme weirdness, to taking up odd activities like knitting, book clubs, and piano lessons to make up for her leaving them. His older brother Jeff didn’t seem to notice or care much, just kept chasing girls and booze and other typical wildly collegiate pastimes. When they arrive at the beach, though, there is something interesting. They’re full of very beautiful Girls, not like normal girls. These Girls are special with their long blonde hair, perfect bodies, and the way they all pay particular attention to Sam and not to his handsome, broad-shouldered older bro. Only two of them does he get to know though. Kristle he meets while ordering some local food, and she’s aggressive and keeps trying to, to be blunt, sexually assault him, or at least imply some sort of sexual harassment. Her younger “sister”, DeeDee he meets while at a wild party, but she is the only one sitting and quietly reading during the ruckus. Sam finds himself inexplicably drawn to DeeDee and the mystery of the Girls. They have no mothers, they don’t seem to live particularly anywhere, don’t say much about their past life, and they’re all from the ages of 16 to 21 just in this tiny town. Despite being warned, Sam can’t leave it alone, and as the mystery unfolds, Sam might just find out the secrets the Girls are keeping, what he cares about, and better know his own identity.
Not for the fainthearted, Bennett Madison’s September Girls explores themes of identity, of sexuality, of gender roles, of independence, and so much more. The writing is spectacular. Much is not revealed for the better part of the book, and at some point, that is definitely hard to do! It’s somewhat inferred from the cover that the girls are mermaids or have something to do with mermaids, and you’ll just have to discover it yourself. Ultimately, while this bit of information is there, the underlying story has nothing to do with the mythical creatures. Rather, it is the transformations of the characters that carries understated importance in this book. Sam at first describes all women with derogatory terms and seems to think of them (and other people) as things rather than people who have their own motivations. For instance, he doesn’t seem to understand his mother when she just takes off. He continues thinking selfishly of himself and the effect her leaving had on his father. (It could be pointed out that she is acting just as selfishly by leaving, but we’re not going to go into all that.) I found the character development to follow a path of self-centered avoidance and apathy towards forcing a change towards taking a stand, believing in something, and yes, “being a man”, which is to say, acting and being strong in your beliefs whether male or female, rather than any gender implication of being an actual man or having manly qualities. Ah, for all of it’s great things, it’s a little murky to fully grasp this book in one go. It’s garnered a bit of dislike on GoodReads, but the best review I read, that I really can’t do justice to is here, by Emily May. I think she’s completely right on many points, and the book really seems to have more in common with literary fiction than typical YA fiction, with all of its hidden metaphors and meanings. Still, it’s an engaging read that boys shouldn’t avoid simply because of the somewhat feminine cover. Thanks to Emily May for her insightful review which nails just so many of the finer points of this novel.
Note: Language, sexuality, alcohol, and drugs are all fairly graphically mentioned in this book.