League of Strays by L.B. Schulman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
After the controversy here on Goodreads surrounding The League of Strays, I was apprehensive to begin the novel.
The League of Strays is about a group of four kids who are loners for various reasons. Richie is gay, Charlotte is an introvert, Zoe is combative, and Nora has a single-minded goal to make valedictorian. Enter Kade, a charismatic bad-boy, who knows just how to manipulate these fine, but lonely seniors and bend them to his will.
Kade wants soldiers to help him seek revenge on bullies at Kennedy High. The League (but mostly Kade) selects and plans attacks on supposed "bullies" that have hurt the Strays.
The attacks begin with some vandalism and threats, and grows to assault in quick succession. Kade soothes worries with sexual charm and it seems to work like magic on these inexperienced teens.
Meanwhile, Charlotte is swept up into a secret relationship with Kade, which seems to serve Kade far more than it does Charlotte.
Blessedly, Charlotte finally gets a clue and a spine. It came a bit late, but better late than never.
The story is fast-paced, which works well. The characters seem much younger than seventeen and eighteen, but from studies we know that readers prefer characters that are about two years older than the readers are themselves.
Schulman does a decent job conveying that popular "bullies" are not all bad people. Schulman maintains her light touch on these themes, which again, lets readers reach their own conclusions.
In another, more controversial section of the book, Schulman fails when Zoe becomes Richie's' beard, becoming his public girlfriend. However, the secretive nature of The League couldn't have been maintained if the members all donned Pride t-shirts. Also, it's important to remember that as real characters, the girls may actually believe that giving Richie a girlfriend will fix the problem.
In another related, Heathers like section, The League makes it look like one of Richie's homophobic bullies, a "jock" football player is gay and waiting for a hookup from another "jock". The falsely lured football player waiting, gets beat by his team mate, landing him in the hospital.
As a reader, I had a hard time with this scene, not just because a hate crime was being committed, but because there didn't seem to be enough of the right kind of why-this-is-SO-wrong narration coming from Charlotte's inner monologue. However, in defense of Charlotte, she is 17 and imperfect, which is real. Because Schulman is not in the reader's face, it allows readers to draw their own conclusions and form their own outrage.
As a YA novel, League of Strays offers a disturbing look into the act of retaliatory bullying, the consequences of lying, and the resulting confusion that sexual attraction has on behavior.
ARC provided by Amulet Books an imprint of Abrams in association with Netgalley.com
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