Author: Bennett Madison
Genre: Fairy Tales Retold, NO STARS FOR YOU, YA Contemporary, Mermaids
Publication Date: May 21, 2013 (HarperTeen – North America)
Source: Publisher-provided ARC
Summary: 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
☆: 0.5/5 stars – painfully sexist and had me raging like no tomorrow.
Review: Originally, this was going to be a NO STARS FOR YOU BOOK. Seriously. It had me that angry, and baffled that Kirkus (among others) gave it a starred review. It was really a “I can’t even, what is this?” moment. And then I looked a little deeper, and saw a little bit of redemptive qualities to this story. But only half a star’s worth. Seriously. While I will admit Madison can write, I cannot in any kind of good conscience recommend “September Girls” – which is really a shame since I had high hopes for it months ago.
The said redemptive qualities: the Girls’ monologues up until the one before chapter seven, which I’ll be getting to in a bit. I have no doubt that Madison can write gorgeous magical realism that can easily leave people confused (hey, it happens) – and maybe that’s what Kirkus and company were looking at when they gave this thing a starred review. There is an eerie quality to the Girls’ monologues up until that fateful pre-chapter seven monologue, one that does feel unearthly and utterly inhuman. That’s my kind of style, and I love it when authors can give me chills like that with their magical realism, so I can’t deny him that. Bro can write when he really puts his mind to it, and when he leaves the savage sexism out of things.
There’s the issue of tapping into a very primal male fear: that of the vagina dentata (the vagina with teeth, said to eat penises during sex). The particular Girls’ monologue right before chapter seven really kind of reflects that. It talks in particular of the Girls having to survive after Daddy throws them out of the sea, and what they have in their proverbial tool kit in order to do so. We’ve had hints before this in previous monologues – such as, “You always find us. You always break our hearts” and so forth, making us think that they really do need human men to survive (and human women are totally out of the equation). Beauty is mentioned as a weapon, and how it’s used to survive on land. Very oblique references to the vagina dentata are made the most in this monologue – which I find interesting that no one else so far has seemed to really pick up. Beauty is “the knife” that allows them to eat, to survive, and to live off of human males. The Girls even mention their names given to them by human men as being sexist (not explicitly but with the choice of names, it’s made pretty obvious) and how they’ve used that to their advantage.
Which really? Kind of explains at least a little of the rampant, borderline-cruel sexism in this book. Which is not an excuse, nor a pardon for the author’s choice in how he wrote this book – merely a desperate reason to find something to salvage within it.
As for the rest: flabbergastingly sexist, rampantly anti-feminist, and just plain painful to read, I can’t recommend “September Girls”. Analyzing it when you know you’re going to rage about it is fun, but it doesn’t make for easy or pleasant reading. And as much as I’m for unlikeable characters, this just went over the top, and by chapter seven, I was 500% done. I just couldn’t read any further.
But that’s just how I feel about it – I will admit I’m one in the very large chorus panning this book because of its sexism, but the panning is deserved. “September Girls” is out now from HarperTeen in North America, so if you so dare, check it out when you get the chance and see how you feel about this book.