Review: League of Strays / Author: L. B. Schulman / Publisher: Amulet Books / Release Date: October 1st
L.B. Schulman’s debut novel League of Strays appealed to this particular reviewer as it depicts the image of American High School life, which has been both glamorised and brutalised across American pop culture for as long as anyone can remember, from the perspective of the outsider, and what would happen if the outsiders decided to get even. And here is the result...
League Of Strays follows Charlotte, a new arrival at a high school who feels incredibly lonely; her best friend Sofie is miles away and losing interest in her, her rival Tiffany Miller has also moved into the area and Charlotte’s hair needs all the Frizz-Ease it can get. However, she then receives a note inviting her to a secret meeting of the League of Strays, an amalgamation of all the outsiders in high school, lead by Kade Harlin. So what follows is a campaign against the bullies that have done them wrong (students and teachers alike) but as the campaign grows darker and darker, will Charlotte be able to break out of the inner circle she’s got herself into?
For a first attempt at a novel, Schulman has pretty much nailed the knack of characterisation. The protagonist Charlotte is written in such a way that you see all the different sides of her personality. You see her naivety (she doesn’t realise her friend’s rabbit costume is actually a Playboy Bunny outfit) as well as her imperfections which can in some instances come across as quite charming (the repeated references to her frizzy hair are quite amusing). Kade is the other well rounded character in this novel; Schulman creates a level of mystery surrounding the proclaimed leader of the League of Strays, and comments from other characters suggest his reasons for such a society (‘his eye lashes that most girls would kill for’ was a personal favourite of mine).
There is also a balanced sense of humour within the novel, which relieves the sense of urgency and intensity in some chapters, such as Charlotte commenting on Prince being about as ‘hip’ as her mum (I must admit I laughed as I wasn’t aware the word was still in circulation!) and the comment of League member Zoe’s oatmeal and avocado face mask being compared to war paint is quite witty given the nature of the story.
However, I was greatly disappointed with some aspects of the book. Charlotte and Kade are characters that are so well written that you just don’t care about any of the other characters. Instead, they become these typical clichés such as Nora, the ‘science geek’ character, and Richie, the ‘in the closet’ character. Whilst Richie’s bullying at the hands of ‘jock’ character Dave is handled well and shows the homophobia rife in schools, the use of clichéd characters makes the plot predictable when there was a golden opportunity to challenge these supposed inevitabilities of American school life in an entertaining way.
Also, pace is problematic within League of Strays as well. You only have to read two chapters before Charlotte is invited to meet with the League of Strays; this proves problematic later on when some of the material is used to basically fill time and unnecessary; the book is 274 pages and could have easily been told more effectively in half that amount.
League of Strays can only be described as a learning curve for the author I feel. Schulman has tapped into a good idea, and creates two characters that work together as individuals, with that dash of measured humour every now and then which doesn’t upset the tone. However, Schulman must make the other characters more original if she wishes to avoid cries of ‘I’ve seen it done before’ and also the pace of the book needs to be slower so that the reader can get a stronger sense of the characters and the world they inhabit.