Title: September Girls
Author: Bennett Madison
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication Date: May 21, 2013
Genre: Magical realism
When Sam’s dad whisks him and his brother off to a remote beach town for the summer, he’s all for it– at first. Sam soon realizes, though, that this place is anything but ordinary. Time seems to slow down around here, and everywhere he looks, there are beautiful blond girls. Girls who seem inexplicably drawn to him.
Then Sam meets DeeDee, one of the Girls, and she’s different from the others. Just as he starts to fall for her, she pulls away, leaving him more confused than ever. He knows that if he’s going to get her back, he’ll have to uncover the secret of this beach and the girls who live here.
I’ll be honest: the only real reason I read this book was to see if the rumors of sexism and terrible writing were true. Okay, and because I thought it sounded good when I first read about it, but once I read some reviews by my favorite bloggers, my motives changed.
For about the first twenty pages, I was surprised. I almost liked it, even though I disliked Sam and Jeff and basically their whole family. But again, that was for only about twenty pages. If you’re smart, you won’t read the book at all, unless you want to feel really angry the entire time you’re reading it, but if you do, just read those first few pages.
Things you will find in the rest of the book:
I think Bennett Madison was going for poetic/lyrical for this book, at least the parts narrated by the Girls, but I think he failed miserably. His writing just came off forced and made the story seem even more ridiculous (I will be using that word to describe this book a lot, just to warn you).
On the topic of the Girls chapters, why? Just why. As previously mentioned, they’re poorly written, and just unnecessary, at least in my opinion. They don’t really add anything to the story except to make it more silly, and while I understand why they were narrated with the collective “we,” it just didn’t work for me. I read a really amazing short story written from a collective perspective that really worked, and looking back on that, it made this story seem almost laughable.
Love to Hate
Let’s start with Sam. He is a whiny little a**hole. He basically starts whining right when you meet him and never stops. First it’s about his mother going off to “Women’s Land” (this will be covered momentarily), then it’s about how is father wants him to be a man and how can he be a man and what does being a man mean, blahblah. I think Bennett Madison meant this to be a poignant coming-of-age story or whatever, but fail. Then, Sam whines about going to the beach, because obviously the beach is a dreadful place and who would ever want to go there, right?
Despite the explanation given near the end of the book about why all the Girls were all over Sam, I just didn’t believe it. It seemed completely ridiculous, and the explanation only made it worse. I guess one good thing about Sam is that he didn’t go around using all the Girls for sex.
Then we have Jeff. He is the biggest douchebag I have ever read about, possibly even more than the protagonist of Chris Lynch’s Inexcusable, which is definitely saying something. He is totally irresponsible and an awful role model for Sam, which kind of explains a lot. He’s horribly sexist, like most of the characters in this story, and he’s so annoying I don’t really know where to start.
Here are a few gems from Jeff:
“You sleep with some girl once, and before you know it you’re trapped in her crazy pussy-web.”
“Oh who gives a fuck…[t]he point is they’re hot and they’re here. I just hope they’re already drunk when we get to the party. I hope they’re ready for a piece of this.”
What a sweetheart, right? Obviously all the Girls (and girls) will fawn all over him because he’s such a freaking charmer. Oh, and he hopes they’re drunk so it’ll be easier to have sex with them, even though having sex with someone who’s drunk is rape. Clearly Jeff is so wonderful that the only way he can get laid is by taking advantage of a drunk girl.
Sam and Jeff’s parents aren’t exactly gems either. The mother is made to look completely ridiculous, which I will cover later, but the father isn’t much better, as you can see from this quote:
“Next to me, my father…whistled tunelessly, pausing every hour or so to make some remark about how now that our family was “all men” we could fart and scratch our balls without fear of female persecution.”
Seriously? Besides showing Sam’s father is crude and kind of icky, this quote also demonstrates society’s limiting idea of what a “man” should be. Sam, I believe, doesn’t agree with his father, but he doesn’t have any stellar models of unique masculinity to follow. When his father talks about how they “could fart and scratch [their] balls without fear of female persecution,” he’s also saying that women are nagging and complainy and are out to emasculate the men in their lives.
Oh, and let’s not forget Sebastian. I think this passage sums him up pretty well:
“Wait, this is all over some girl? Don’t be such a fucking vagina, dude! I mean, dude! You go to the beach for a month and you turn into a human tampon.”
Ain’t that the picture of eloquence. Oh, and if you think that’s too many “dudes” in one passage, you’ll want to strangle the next person you hear say it after finishing the whole book.
Misrepresentations of Feminism
This happens on right from page one when Sam explains how his mother “took off into something called “Women’s Land.”
Sam explains “Mom starts getting all these crazy ideas. We barely see her anymore–she’s just on Facebook–and when we, do, she’s talking about this “cutting up men” stuff. Then one day…she tells me she’s going to live at something called Women’s Land, where no one ever has to talk to men.” Because, 1) Obviously feminist ideas are “crazy ideas”, 2) Valerie Solanas is the only feminist literature out there, and 3) Feminism is about eliminating men from our lives and the planet.
When she returns from Women’s Land, Sam describes his mother’s transformation, talking about a bathing suit that was “black with white trim and a halter that tied at the neck” and how it “didn’t look like the sort of thing they’d approve of at Women’s Land,” because obviously in order to be a feminist/independent woman, you need to go butch and look like a man to be a “real” feminist. Earth to Sam (and possibly Bennett Madison?): feminists come in all shapes, styles, and colors. There is no “right” way to be a feminist.
You also might wonder why Sam’s mother left Women’s Land. Basically, they weren’t allowed to talk to men, and the women in charge were even more controlling than Sam’s mom thought men were. The whole things was just…not really feminism. Plus, you could tell Sam thought his mother was really weird when she came back all “liberated” or whatever.
I also thought it was ironic that the one piece of feminist literature mentioned in this sexist mess of a novel was the SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas. Of course Bennett Madison had to go and pick the most extremist feminist he could. Although, looking back on the Manifesto, it’s ironic that he chose it because everything the men in this story do proves her points.
I guess it is possible he chose SCUM to sort of imply that these extremely sexist views aren’t views he shares. Maybe September Girls is supposed to be satire of modern day society? I kind of doubt it though, because I know plenty of men who actually think this way, and you probably do, too, so Madison wouldn’t really be helping anyone if that was the intent of this book.
One of the parts of this book that made me the most angry was when DeeDee (also, can we pause and ponder how idiotic a name that is for a second, please?) says, “Being a housewife seems like it could be a lot of fun, right? Anything’s better than waiting tables–except maybe being a maid. Either way, housewives don’t have to do any of that. I mean, they’re free. Who could be freer?”
Now let’s ponder the idiocy of that statement.
Okay, moving on to Sam’s genius reaction: basically, he didn’t bother “to comment on the relative freeness of housewives or the pure shit [his] mother had spouted about something called “the feminine mystique” in the weeks leading up to her escape.” Seriously? The Feminine Mystique is “pure shit”? It was one of, if not the first book that documented the unhappiness of women during the 1950s and 60s, and her ideas are still relevant to this day. The amount of hours women do in terms of housework compared to men is staggering. Apparently, Sam thinks that women ought to just stick to the roles keeping them at the most basic level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and don’t need to seek fulfillment outside of their traditional, sexual roles. As Friedan states in the penultimate chapter of The Feminine Mystique, women deserve to have meaningful work just as much as men do in order to fulfill self-actualization.
Shortly after that brilliant revelation by Sam, there is a collective chapter focusing on the idea of mothers. I suppose it kind of makes sense that the Girls would be interested in this topic since they technically don’t really have a mother, but still.
Oh, and the Girls name themselves after hair products. I feel like this was supposed to be romantic or poetic or something, but really? “no one is allowed to call herself L’Oreal anymore…We’ve since had a few Pantenes, but not enough to cause problems.” If this book was less sexist in general, that part might have been okay, but it only added to my dislike of it. They’re naming themselves after products women are supposed to love and be obsessed with.
Those aren’t their only names though. As Bennett Madison points out in the same section, “the names they call us are not hard to guess. Comehere, Wheresmyfood, Trysmilingsometime, and Suckonthis are four common ones, but the list goes predictable on from there and only gets uglier.” Based on the rest of the chapter, it feels like even though the Girls dislike these names (they would be kind of stupid not to, so that’s something at least), it seems they still identify with them. They don’t appear to do anything to stand up for themselves, which isn’t so great either.
And let’s not forget how they’re supposed to break the curse. Yes, this is kind of a spoiler, but hopefully I’ve done my job and you don’t want to read the book at this point. The only way the Girls can be free is by having sex with a virgin, because that was what their father decided, which is gross in itself. Sex does not always equal freedom. It can, I suppose, but in this case, the Girls are still submitting to someone else’s desires in order to free themselves. Also, anyone who thinks Sam and DeeDee’s sex was romantic is totally wrong, at least in my opinion. Oh, also, the Girls form themselves to be sex objects. Just sayin’. When they become “real” girls, they transform and look more like “normal” (i.e., not slutty, in Bennett Madison speak) girls.
Another thing on general sexism: did the author purposely pick such dumb names for the Girls? I mean, come on, DeeDee? Taffany? Kristle? (No offense to anyone with those names, but on these characters, it really didn’t help them). I’ve already discussed L’Oreal and Pantene, so I’m not even going to touch that again.
Oh my god, the slut shaming. This is the thing that upset me the most. Slut shaming contributes to victim blaming, which contributes to rape culture, etc.
Here are some prominent examples:
DeeDee talking about the Bible: “I like the parts about hos, even if they always come to a bad end. Eat a fucking apple, you’re a ho. Open a box, you’re a ho. Some guy looks at you, turn to stone, ho. See you later, ho. It’s always the same. The best one is Lilith–also a ho, but a different kind of ho. She went and got her own little thing going, and for that she gets to be an eternal demon queen, lucky here. No one likes a ho. Except when they do, which, obviously, is most of the time. Doesn’t make a difference; she always gets hers eventually.”
So basically, if you date, or have sex, you deserve to be eternally punished. Nice.
And when Sam tells Jeff Kristle is a slut:
‘”Yeah, I’m sure,” I said. “”Which dick am I gonna put in me today?” It gets complicated.” plus “you don’t see DeeDee acting like some nympho bitch.”
I just can’t anymore. I just can’t.
SEPTEMBER GIRLS IN A NUTSHELL: Don’t let the pretty cover fool you. Get out now while you still can.
*Official end of the longest fucking review I’ve ever written. (sorry for the swearing, but it’s taken me literal days to write this review).
(again, does anyone know: IS THIS BOOK MEANT TO BE SATIRICAL?
I feel like it might be, because of the way Madison describes the Girls, like maybe he’s mocking the straight male gaze, and because of his use of the SCUM Manifesto as the primary feminist literature read by Sam’s mom, but I’m not sure. If it is, I still don’t think it was very successful because a lot of guys do think that way and it would be extremely difficult to pick up on if you’re not familiar with the SCUM Manifesto.)