Tuesday, September 25, 2012

League of Strays by L.B. Schulman

Title: League of Strays
Author: L.B. Schulman
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: October 1, 2012
Pages: 288 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: author website

This suspenseful debut follows a group of teenage misfits in their delicious quest for revenge on those who have wronged them at their high school. When a mysterious note appears in Charlotte's mailbox inviting her to join the League of Strays, she's hopeful it will lead to making friends. What she discovers is a motley crew of loners and an alluring, manipulative ringleader named Kade. Kade convinces the group that they need one another both for friendship and to get back at the classmates and teachers who have betrayed them. But Kade has a bigger agenda. In addition to vandalizing their school and causing fights between other students, Kade's real intention is a dangerous plot that will threaten lives and force Charlotte to choose between her loyalty to the League and her own conscience.


A premise I thought had promise and a cover I kind of liked because of how the models' expressions match the story ended up going to waste and upsetting me more than I thought it would. League of Strays reads well and it was never a slog to get through, but characters I don't find the least bit interesting, bad handling of subject matter, and a lack of understanding as to why these characters do what they do.

I don't have to like a character to want to read about them. They can be on level with Hitler and I will read about them as long as they are complex and interesting enough. I didn't like any of these characters. Richie, Nora, and Zoe just weren't fleshed out enough for me to care much about them; Charlotte and Kade are a different story.

At first, I felt for Charlotte. She's a lonely, friendless girl who's been bullied for years by the same person and doesn't appreciate herself. When she finally "makes friends" after joining the League of Strays, I kind of get why she didn't want to speak up against them... at first. As the novel went on, what little interest I had in her evaporated and as things got more outrageous, the novel failed to make me understand why she ignored the most basic common sense. Charlotte upset me greatly with this quote:
"Sidney Bishop told Nicole Haines that Mark Lawrence had beat up his girlfriend, who was recovering at Glenwood Community Hospital with a broken hand. I prayed it was true, because that would mean our plan for Dave had nothing to do with this latest development (ARC p. 139)."
 No! Absolutely not! Saying you hope a girl suffered through domestic abuse because it meant you and your friends were safe is unacceptable. I could have finished this book that night, but I was so upset by this quote that I had to put it off until I calmed down. Charlotte interrogating a girl Kade stalked and beat up about what happened when the girl is obviously distressed didn't do much to make her likable or interesting either.

Charlotte is also in need of a brain transplant because all the brain cells in her head appear to be dead. Everything is right in front of her face and she blatantly ignores it. Her response to finding a letter from their school principal to a judge stating that Kade stole stuff, stalked people, had sociopathic tendencies, and allegedly assaulted someone? Make out with Kade for a while and stay at his apartment that night. She does not think back on that letter until Zoe brings up her research on the alleged assault and Charlotte acts like she's never heard about it before. My frustration can only be measured in tufts of hair.

The strength of Kade's character is a make-it-or-break-it detail. Charismatic enough to motivate the Strays into doing terrible things, the book falls if he is anything less than what he is supposed to be--and he was. From the beginning, he is undeniably creepy and lacks the necessary charisma to make me believe he could get his friends to do what they do over the course of the novel even when I put myself in the girls' mindsets. That makes it seem like the only reason the girls are following him is because he's drop-dead gorgeous, and I don't like that implication. He seemed like a badly failed attempt at emulating the qualities that made Charlie Manson such a powerful, dangerous cult leader.

And the scene that started it all: one of the Strays' plots against a bully results in a scene that could trigger someone sensitive to homophobia or violence related by it. If those are your triggers, BE VERY CAREFUL WITH THIS BOOK. A summary of the scene is in the next paragraph, but skip it if you think you would be uncomfortable reading it.

During the novel, they set up Dave, who bullies fellow Stray Richie for being gay, to meet a nonexistent girl at the post office. The Strays then drop a letter into the locker of Mark, Dave's rival/teammate and fellow homophobe, that will make him think Dave is meeting another man for a romantic tryst at the post office. Mark and other football players end up beating up Dave because they think he is gay, eventually breaking his arm. I am not one to be triggered by such material, but I still felt very uncomfortable throughout the scene because of what it is with no frills: a group of people beating someone up because they think he's gay.

I want to give Charlotte minute credit because, though she proposed the plan, she did not intend for Dave to be beaten up. Partway through the prank, she realizes just how wrong she was to let something like that happen and is rightfully disgusted at herself and at the scene. Then I remember that intent is not magical and she gets no credit. The other Strays also get no credit because they think he deserves it. No one, not even a bully, deserves to be beaten up because someone thinks they're gay. It's a shame Charlotte doesn't say she's done for another 100 pages.

Kinda funny how a book with a gay person as one of its five main characters is homophobic, huh? If it weren't homophobic, the Strays wouldn't have decided the perfect way to get revenge on Dave was to frame him and make people think he was gay. Since when is being gay a bad thing? NEVER, that's when. The bullying problem is only solved when Ritchie is shoved back in the closed and Dave thinks he's straight, and that isn't cool either.

The scene with Dave getting beaten up because the other jocks thought he was gay upset many of my friends. Though I have a slightly different view on the scene, it can be very uncomfortable to read about, much less read for oneself. I like the way Schulman writes because it's smooth and easy to read, but I'm sad that gift is put to use telling an upsetting, weak story with uninteresting, unlikable characters. Hopefully, any books she publishes in the future will be an improvement upon this. There isn't much lower one can go.

1 star!

What am I reading next?: Dani Noir by Nova Ren Suma