L B Schulman 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.
Set in an average all American high school this story definitely focuses on the darker and more difficult side of school life and adolescence. Many people experience troubles at this particular time of life but the teens in this story all have a little extra to contend with. Between them they have faced bullying, been neglected by their parents, been their parents carer, faced physical abuse and generally have been hurt maybe more than average.
Our protagonist, Charlotte is a good girl. She has moved to a new school in a new place and has no friends. She plays the viola and is headed to music school after graduation. She is very sheltered and incredibly naive. But when she receives a note asking her to a strange meeting she sneaks out to find out what it’s all about. Here she meets Kade Harlin, who she finds very attractive, and three others that Kade has invited to be a part of the league of strays.
Charlotte does want friends and her desire to spend time with Kade leads her to join the group despite some mis-givings. From here she goes on a journey she could never have imagined as Kade’s real agenda begins to surface. Charlotte’s conscience is always whispering in her ear but she begins by switching it off and trying to turn away from the good girl she has always been. Her eyes are opened to the suffering in the lives of others and she does find some kind of friendship with them. But her relationship with Kade develops and the excitement of being with him blinds her to his faults. This is typical of many a teenage girl but Kade’s faults are pretty bad! Eventually Charlotte is forced to confront her fears and the consequences of both her actions and those of the group.
The others in the group are an interesting group of characters. I didn’t like Nora who has a real mean streak, but Zoe’s handling of her mother’s alcoholism has a strong ring of truth about it. These needy young people are ripe to be taken for a ride and Kade pulls all the strings he can to achieve this. Kade gave signals of his true nature right from the beginning but no-one wanted to see them, their need for each other was too great. He chose well for his task, but under-estimated them in the long run. It felt like the pranks the Strays played could really happen as kids egg each other on, and do. But the fact that these pranks (some are worse than pranks!) were all planned out gave it an edge. As the ideas become more vicious it is easy to see how Charlotte feels trapped into the group and into doing things she feels are wrong. It is so difficult to walk away from a gang and to stand up for your own beliefs, it’s even worse if the punishment involved could ruin your life. Verdict: This is an interesting read, the characters engaged me and I wanted to know if Kade would get his comeuppance! It succeeds in showing how difficult it can be when you get in over your head. Reviewed by Helen