In his newest young adult novel, Bennett Madison tries his hand at emotionally wrestling with a nebulous pack of beautiful, land-bound mermaids. The plot of September Girls progresses slowly—mimicking the passing of the summer in which it takes place—gradually revealing the legend of the cursed mermaids stranded on an obscure beach off the Atlantic coast. Seventeen-year-old Sam finds himself falling for one of these mysterious girls, and his attraction pulls him deeper into their secrets until the book’s sudden ending.
As someone who once described himself as “an open and enthusiastic gay,” Madison’s characterization of virginal, heterosexual Sam is relatable, though somewhat stereotypical. While it may be true that most teenaged boys can’t get sex off their brains, it doesn’t always make for the most interesting of overriding character traits. Nonetheless, the depictions of young flirtation and sexual frustration are right on point and may be the truest imitations of it I’ve read yet, regardless of sexual orientation.
Toying with the extremes of realistic fiction, Madison employs the old adage of “perspective is reality” to unearth the meaning of love, loss and masculinity in a land that may not even really exist, and by the closing chapter, leaves us trying to find the humanity in the mythical. To this end, the narrative device of switching back and forth between the voice of Sam and the ancient, echoed voice of the mermaid collective was intriguing. However, if those two main voices had varied a bit more, used vulgarities more artfully and with less frequency, and had fleshed out further the mythology of the mermaids, this dual perspective could have been even more engrossing for the reader.