“The summer following the winter that my mother took off into something called Women’s Land for what I could only guess would be eternity, my father decided that there was no choice but for him to quit his despised job and take me and my brother to the beach for at least the entire summer and possibly longer.”
Thus begins Bennett Madison‘s BRILLIANT novel, September Girls. I could not have read it at a more perfect time, just as the last final scorching days of summer started to give way to cooler evenings, at least by California standards. It’s gotten quite a lot of hype, from critical adoration to claims of misogyny on the interwebs to an Andre Norton Award honor. Plus, Mr. Madison is a very dear, very old friend of my cousin. I was intrigued, to say the least.
So, Sam’s mom has taken off and his dad is having a major mid-life crisis as a result, so he bundles Sam and his college-aged brother, Jeff, into the car and takes them to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Almost as soon as they get there, Sam notices the Girls: preternaturally beautiful and nearly identical manifestations of just about every teenage boy’s wet dream. They’re creepy, they’re beautiful, and they are really all about putting their hands on Sam for no reason he can figure out. So, what’s the deal? YOU’LL HAVE TO READ TO FIND OUT, BUT IMA GIVE YOU A HINT AND SAY IT MIGHT BE MAAAAGICCC.
Let’s start by saying I god damn fucking loved this book so much. Sam’s voice is completely genuine, and anyone who has a problem with the “language” found throughout obviously doesn’t spend any time with teenage boys. I do, and I can tell you this is exactly how they talk. All the time. So stop being amnesiac prudes and RECOGNIZE that your teens have potty mouths and are 100% fixated on sex.
What’s really incredible about Madison’s writing, though, is that even though he has accomplished this pitch perfect teen dude voice, his writing is rarely anything less than beautiful. There is an eerie, echoing cadence throughout the entire novel whose beauty is most pronounced when we get the chapters told from the Girls’ perspective. It’s just stunningly beautiful, and profound, and just…gah.
As for the controversy surrounding this book, with its emphasis on a teenage boy dealing with pressures from all sorts of different angles to just DO IT already, and its abundance of Girls who are composed of all sorts of stereotypes of femininity…well, maybe those people need to take a refresher course on critical reading. Because this book is a pretty fucking brilliant examination of the gendered expectations attached to coming of age: of being macho, fucking and demeaning girls, if you’re a guy, and of being these media fueled, hyper-sexualized paper dolls of desirability if you’re a girl. I can’t go into a full-on analysis of the heterosexist gender dynamics without spoiling things horribly, but it’s all brilliant and spot on. As a woman who really, really struggled with what the media told me being a woman consisted of as a teen girl, I deeply appreciated the language surrounding the Girls’ weaponized sexuality.
In other words, haters gonna hate, but I adored this book. It’s a magical examination of what it means to be “masculine” or “feminine” when you’re coming of age, and it’s an achingly resonant exploration of the neverending cycle of growth and change as we constantly shed our old skins throughout our lives. It’s stunning. You should probably read it.
Music? Easy peasy! Dee Dee and Kristle sing “Sea of Love” at karaoke night, and even though I’m pretty sure it’s not this version it’s the version I like so HERE GOES.
Also, there is a really perfect reference to “Part of Your World” that just about killed me, so here is that song that every little girl of the eighties knows every single word to.
Where I got it: the library