Dream-like, Sarcastic, and Misunderstood: September Girls by Bennett Madison

Thursday, May 30, 2013

September Girls by Bennett Madison
September Girls
by Bennett Madison
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Publisher: HarperTeen
Expected publication: May 21st 2013
Source: ARC
Author's website | GoodReads
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.

A lot has been said about this controversial new book as soon as it entered the young adult book scene, but i'm having a hard time transcribing what I felt about it. It's safe to say that I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it that much either. I don't completely understand what I felt about September Girls, but i'm pretty sure that it is dream-like, sarcastic, and completely misunderstood.

The thing about dreams is that they always confuse us in one way or another, and that was one of the things that September Girls did often and well- confuse me. I didn't really have a clue what was going on, and why, until quite a few chapters into the book. Up until then, Bennett Madison seemed to be just writing a rough draft and was just starting to establish the framework of his book. Like dreams, September Girls was hazy, seemingly important, choppy, and sadly forgettable. Reading it was like carelessly jumping from one cloud to another, quickly forgetting most of the things I've been reading about in previous chapters.

September Girls' story arc played out in one slightly jagged straight line (extreme emphasis on slightly), however, it is anything but a simple linear plot. Moving through a coming-of-age tale that starts small with a quest for something to do on a weird beach town, it starts with trying to figure out if their dad is starting to go crazy because he suddenly took them to a beach town and made it his life mission to find buried treasure, and then it becomes this 'getting to know you' kind of thing between him and his brother, but it quickly turns into trying to get laid and meet girls and find out about this one girl in particular but then mermaids and messed up things happen and then it turns to this complicated contemporary novel that plays with the thought of "if I wasn't this, would she still have loved me?" and then even weirder things happen and I don't even know if all of that made sense but that's okay because September Girls hardly made any sense and like I said, it was dream-like because when it's all over and you wake up you end up dazed and confused, not knowing what just happened.

Sam was not the best narrator, and he isn't very main character-y either. It's like he was just as lost as me, trying to find sanity in this weird Alice in Wonderland zone that Bennett Madison created. He wasn't like other characters who wordlessly shrugged off every weird shit being thrown at them; Sam was the kind who held his hands up and said 'Woah wait just one sec. Hold up. This is MESSED UP!' but he was also incredibly boring and underdeveloped- and he stayed like that until the very end. He thought with his penis more often than not, and he drizzled most of his thoughts with profanities and sarcasm. And oh, the sarcasm in this book! I'm not one of those blonde girls in movies who says 'uhmm what?' when someone says something sarcastic, but this book turned me into one of them! I highly believe that Bennett Madison is sitting out there somewhere, laughing at us all.

The girls on the beach town, who were surprisingly (yet unsurprisingly) all drawn to our anti-hero, were flat and uninteresting and, as Sam would have said, eerily similar to one another. Some chapters were narrated by them and were dedicated to their story, but those chapters were unnecessary and instead of making me understand the book, they confused me even more. And then there was DeeDee, Sam's very own manic pixie dream girl. I don't know why Sam deemed him different from the other girls. Yes, she was less slutty and not as crazy as the others, but she still fell flat. Honestly? The girl who manned the bar interested me more.

Do you know what mystified me? Bennett Madison's writing style. It was strange, lyrical, mysterious, and magical all at the same time. Dare I say it reminded me of Haruki Murakami's distinctive style? Or David Mitchell's literary voice? Bennett Madison's style plot-line has magic realism written all over it and had this ethereal and wispy quality to it, which I loved. Madison's voice had something that Murakami and Mitchell lacked though, and that was modern attitude. I appreciated the sarcasm and wit but I think it overpowered the book at times, and the lack of balance between ethereal and sarcastic made the book wobbly at the center. The ending didn't make me lose sleep, though I felt like I was missing something (metaphoric? symbolic?). September Girls had this brilliant idea whose execution fell short of my initial expectations, but I see promise in our young author and I am looking forward to reading his future works.

Some of the qualms about this book were about the amount of sex and profanities in the book and I don't think we should cross the book out just because of that. I myself initially thought that this was a cute and dreamy summer love story, which I blame on the cover and evasive summary, and was shocked to find out that it was vulgar, sexist, and definitely not a summer love story. But you know what? I wasn't offended by it and it didn't dissuade me from reading it at all because it was true. Everything going on in Sam's head (-cough- and penis -cough-), you'll find in several other seventeen year olds' heads. And yes, the people were unpleasant, but there are people like that out there in the world. The world isn't all just rainbows and butterflies, guy. Intelligent readers do not confuse the quality of a book with the moral rectitude of the characters.* It is also important to remember that the views represented in the book are not necessarily the author's own, and it would be unfair to cross him out.

I think of Bennett Madison as an artist who created an abstract piece searching for someone who would get him, for someone to completely understand his work. I, unfortunately am not that fated person, but I hope that someday someone will eventually pick up this book, read it, and understand.

THE NUB AND GIST: 2 STARS
The Selkie Reads Stories
*Margaret Atwood on likable characters

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9 comments

  1. I'm actually glad to see such an honest review of this, Ellie, because I assumed it was a sweet summery love story, too. I'm not sure I would be able to reconcile with a ton of vulgarity and such. If sex is done well in a novel and adds to the plot, it's fine, but if it's overabundant and simply there to add shock value or tension, I can't see myself enjoying it. Overall, I'm not sure this one is for me, but I do appreciate the fact that you highlighted both the positives and negatives!

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  2. I'm really looking forward to read this book, since you know, I can't help falling in love with its beautiful cover. But reading your review and some other reviews on net, I think I'll pick is one up later when I'm mentally ready (Because honestly, I'm so not ready for a vulgar and sexist read) :D nice and honest review, though, Ellie. It really helped me to decide about wheter i should pick this one ASAP or not! (In this case : or not :))

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  3. Thanks for a very honest review Ellie. I was planning on picking this one up, but then your review came and, well, not that I changed my mind but it sort of let me think for a while. And maybe sooner or later, me and this book might cross paths and you know how lovely the cover is, maybe when I see in physically somewhere in a bookstore, I might actually urge myself on picking it up. :D

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  4. Intelligent readers do not confuse the quality of a book with the moral rectitude of the characters.

    Almost all of the reviews I've read for this have commented on how vulgar the narrator is, how often he talks to/about his dick and what a jerk his best friend is. And the more I read these reviews, the more I want to give this book a shot - like you quoted above, just because a character is repulsive, does not mean the book is of low quality. Maybe the characters were deliberately written as horny boys because that's how most boys that age think!

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  5. I've seen this book around and it sounded really mysterious and beautiful. I know that feeling when you really aren't sure do you love or hate books. It's somewhere in between but you can't describe it. Now after reading your review I'll give up on this book. Even though the writing style sounds appealing it's not good enough. Great review :)

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  6. I sort of like dream-like books, or at least I think I do... but I have heard so many bad things about September Girls... nobody seems to get it, if there is anything to get, that is :)
    Also, choppy and confusing? That doesn't sound good. Plus, I don't really like Haruki Murakami's style either... yeah, I don't think this book is for me.
    Thanks for the review!

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  7. I also received this one for review but unfortunately I wasn't able to finish it. It wasn't my type of novel and it was also really saddening because it was my first novel left unfinished. The story didn't captivate me enough and the writing was just crude. However I do have to agree with you: there are always two sides to every novel. As you pointed out, Sam is a teenage guy and certainly has such thoughts. After reading your review, I almost have to admit that the writing does have it appeal, maybe magical and strange are the words I have to agree on. However the writing wasn't the thing that made me dislike it so much. The story was. Like you, I felt lost and confused and the novel just lacked on world-building and character development.
    This is a hate or love novel. Maybe it's misunderstood but for me, it's righteously so. Nonetheless I think that there are people who will enjoy reading this one, anyway.
    Great review! You made me think about my opinion and I do have to agree with you on some things that I guess, I was too prejudiced against.

    Rachel @ Books to Consider

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  8. Definitely staying away from this. I can't count the number of negative reviews I've seen for September Girls, and this is probably the first time I'm glad that HC declined my request to read it on Edelweiss! It's interesting how you saw this book from a different perspective, though. I'm not sure where I would stand if I'd read this book, but I do hope that Madison's future works aren't as obscene as this one sounds like.

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  9. This is a fantastic review! Probably the best I have read of this very, very strange book. I felt very much the same way that you did when I read September Girls. I was expecting much more than I got, but I didn't outright hate the book either. I almost felt like it would have been stronger if it had stuck to a contemporary storyline: coming of age, dealing with a broken family, strained relationship with an older brother, first love, etc. But writing in this weird, confusing paranormal mermaid-ish element threw everything off for me. I didn't get it for one and it really weakened the book in my opinion.

    You're right about the characters. I liked the slacker/ I-don't-give-a-crap attitude that Sam had, especially early in the book, but I didn't care one bit for ANY of the girls. Even DeeDee failed to impress me. and you're right, the bartender girl (what was her ridiculous name? Taffany?) stood out more than any of them!

    I thought the whole curse storyline was trite and silly, once I figured it out I had to roll my eyes. And it's a shame because, yeah, I think Madison is a good writer.

    Anyway, great review and this part is my fave part:

    "I highly believe that Bennett Madison is sitting out there somewhere, laughing at us all."

    I think you may be right:)

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