League of Strays delivers an interesting, twisted concept that leaves a distinct impression of distaste in one’s mouth all wrapped up in a nicely decorated book cover. The cover art is intensely accurate – from the pose of the two models, the uncertain, uncomfortable fear in Charlotte (who is physically accurate) and the brooding, constipated look of Kade (who is also physically accurate). I say constipated because Kade is an intensely unlikeable character, and one who is never intended to be anything else.
When Charlotte is invited to become a part of the mysterious League of Strays, she is introduced into a culture where the apparent aim is to punish those who have wronged or slighted the members of the group. It is led by the enigmatic, charismatic Kade, who is a sociopath. He seduces three of the four members of the group in his twisted manipulations using his good looks and simply paying attention to the other members. That’s all they want. Kade’s touch is used to demonstrate this point. Charlotte’s very aware of this, because she is an outwardly lonely soul. It’s also the major reason why the four members revolve around Kade and get trapped in his sick little game. They each want to be included, and the peer pressure gets to all of them.
First, the bad news:
Apart from her loneliness, I don’t see why Charlotte was chosen to be a part of the group. Ritchie is chosen because he’s apparently the only gay in the village, Zoe’s picked because her mother is an alcoholic, Nora is chosen because she’s focussing on being the valedictorian and has absent parents, but Charlotte? Apparently Charlotte suffers from overprotective, controlling parents. In reality, we the audience only ever see evidence of Charlotte’s mother being a caring, concerned parent and although her father makes a rather logic-defying conclusion that Charlotte might be sleeping with some of the boys targeted by this bully group (52%), he’s okay as a father figure as well.
Charlotte also demonstrates her utter stupidity when she expresses a desire to be stalked because in her mind it means someone cares for her. “Kade has laid his heart at this girl’s feet, and she’d stomped all over it. If it had been me, I would’ve loved to get a poem like that, to have someone care enough to write it.” (13%) Because apparently it’s wrong if a girl rejects a guy who fancies her. Maybe it’s even bullying? Who knows. Here’s an interesting article by Foz Meadows about guys and friendzoning, which resonates quite strongly with Kade’s attitude. You know, the attitude of a future rapist and everything.
In fact, multiple times Charlotte pretty much disgusted me as a character. She lies about her ‘bullying’ experience (16%), reveals that at age 17 she still can’t cook (47%) nor make her own breakfast (then complains when her mother does it ‘wrong’ 49%), finds doing simple chores repressing (setting the table 36%), and then whines about being controlled by her mother. Meanwhile we’re also told that when her mother couldn’t afford to buy Charlotte a ‘trendy’ pair of pre-torn jeans, her apparently strict, controlling, unfair mother took a pair of sewing scissors to Charlotte’s existing jeans to give her a home-made pair (38%). This is just one example of Charlotte’s mother showing us a caring nature that we are told is overbearing and strict. Later, we are told that Charlotte believes if she ended up pregnant, her parents would support her unconditionally (47%). Doesn’t sound like overbearing, overprotective, controlling, strict parents to me.
And then some stuff happened that was pretty stupid. The League breaks into and trashes an office. Prior to this, Charlotte has taken your standard Mary-Sue-I’m-an-adorable-klutz tumble and gashed her leg open. While Kade hands out gloves to prevent the police from taking prints, not one mentions maybe keeping Charlotte’s gushing blood out of the office. No one even mentions it. Charlotte only mentions it once more, and no blood is ever found in the office in the aftermath (25-26%). Charlotte has a five line conversation with her mother that makes her fifteen minutes late to class (41%). One of the bully group’s attacked ended with a ‘piercing scream’, the victim lying ‘still as a portrait’ with the straps of her gown cut, and a witness says ‘some guy in a ski mask got her’ (emphasis mine). I assumed the girl was dead. Logical assumption to make. Apparently not. (69-70%)
At around 90% the story stopped making sense with entire sentences missing and even a whole scene. I assume this will be fixed in the final version but still, it’s a lot of work for an ARC to go through.
Schulman also apparently has no concept of the beats of dialogue. Often I got lost wondering who was speaking, and was informed too late to really feel that the novel was smoothly written.
Now the good news:
Charlotte is aware of Kade’s sociopathic tendencies. Although at first she finds it romantic, she later learns that it’s not, even though she is somewhat blinded by her own lust. She has the ovaries to stand up to him.
Schulman gets bonus points for four reasons: Charlotte’s hobby, which is the viola; including a gay character; including a mixed race character; never presenting Kade as anything other than the controlling, manipulative asshat we all know from ‘romances’ such as Twilight, Hush, Hush, and Halo.
The end of the novel is really what bumped it up to two stars. I don’t want to spoil it, but Charlotte has ovaries. She doesn’t necessarily experience drastic growth as a character, but she does learn to go after what she wants rather than let others walk all over her. She learns that no matter how hot a guy is, sometimes he is just a controlling, manipulative, stalking asshole.
An advance reader copy was kindly provided by the publisher.