Seton Girls by Charlene Thomas is described as “Friday Night Lights” meets “Dear White People“. The novel is about Seton Academic High anticipating a thirteen-year winning football streak. The Seton Girls are instrumental in those wins, although no one really knows why. The stakes are high, which brings risks that may not overshadow the star quarterback who is part of a legacy.
The book has two timelines: “what it is” and “what it was”. The timelines recall the glory days and reach for what is possible. My conversation with Thomas included teenagers dreaming and affirming love, writing about the culture of locker room talk, and the plethora of pop culture references in the novel.
CW: racism, sexual harassment, sexual assault death
Ashley Paul (AP): What is your definition of feminism?
Charlene Thomas (CT): To me, feminism is all about equality and taking a stance that women should have the same rights, access, autonomy, and protections as anyone else.
AP: You quote in the book “’Best’ is an adjective. We deserve to be nouns.” What purpose did you want this to serve the characters?
CT: This line was really important to me in writing this book because I think that, so often, we—especially girls/women—see ourselves through the lens of the adjectives that other people use to describe us. But we’re more than “pretty” or “wild” or “shy” or “the best.” We’re entire human beings—nouns—and I think it’s really important for us, and everyone else, to remember that.
AP: The boys have locker room talk. What was your process for writing these characters amidst evolving conversations about boys and their behavior?
CT: One of the main themes I wanted to weave into Seton Girls was this idea that “boys will be boys.” It’s been a justification in society for so long to excuse bad behavior, and I really wanted to put a version of that on the page through some of these characters. I think that people are really reaching a point where there’s pressure to challenge a lot of those age-old conventions, and I love the girls in this book for pushing us to continue to do just that.
AP: My favorite part of the book is when a few characters speak about the love they want and see having. What are the main manifestations you wanted readers to know about love, particularly through these teenagers?
CT: I’m so glad you enjoyed that scene! Honestly (and maybe strangely), I consider Seton Girls to be its own kind of love story. It’s not the romantic love story that we’re used to seeing, but there’s a deeply intentional platonic love that I wanted to exist in this book. My hope is that, in meeting these characters, readers further recognize how vast love can be and how beautiful and powerful it is in all of its forms. I’m just as big a fan of romantic love as the next person, but I also believe that best friends are a truly special kind of soul mate.
AP: There are conversations about class given that these students attend an elite school. How did you craft that into the storytelling?
CT: It was important to me to have a range of perspectives in this story. On one hand, you have Aly—our narrator—who goes to Seton Academic on scholarship and has nowhere near the financial resources that many of her peers do. And then you have the wealthy kids—a group that Aly initially assumes includes anyone at Seton with money. But as the story unfolds, you realize there’s a bit of a tiered system even within that wealthy group of students, and that the white boys on the football team really have the most power, even amongst the powerful. And I think—hopefully—having those varying perspectives helps to paint more of the nuances between privilege and what it looks like and means for different groups.
AP: What inspired you to incorporate lots of music and film references? I loved the Destiny’s Child and O-Town references.
CT: A huge part of Seton Academic’s identity is honoring that first undefeated football team that existed almost thirteen years ago. So, a lot of the integration of those pop culture references was to reinforce how these kids of today are sort of consumed by a culture from a decade ago. Hopefully, it creates a little bit of an eeriness in terms of how little has changed at Seton Academic after all these years…until now, of course.
AP: What bookstore is special to you?
CT: I’d love to give a shout-out to Solid State Books in Washington, DC, which hosted the Seton Girls virtual launch and is such an incredible independent bookstore. If you’re ever in the area, you absolutely MUST stop by!
Thank you, Charlene Thomas, for speaking with Feminist Book Club. Congratulations on your debut novel!