Favorite Quote: “I think I might be a murderer.”
Reviewed by Tori
At St. Aidan the Great School, or STAGS, new things–and new people–are to be avoided. The grandeur of the boarding school and the prestige of the students’ bloodlines seem surreal to Greer MacDonald. A scholarship student who recently transferred to STAGS, Greer is ignored at best and mocked at worst by the school’s most admired circle of friends, the Medievals.
Greer is taken by surprise when the Medievals send her an invitation to an exclusive weekend retreat at the private family estate of their unofficial leader, Henry de Warlencourt. It’s billed as a weekend of “huntin’ shootin’ fishin’.”
As the weekend begins to take shape, it becomes apparent that beyond the luxurious trappings, predators are lurking, and they’re out for blood. (Goodreads)
M.A. Bennett’s debut YA coming of age thriller is set against the background of a prestigious religious boarding school-St. Aiden the Great aka S.T.A.G.S. Heavily character driven, the driving force of this story is Greer McDonald. Greer, a Manchester girl with a snarky attitude and a public school education, decides on a lark to apply at a very prestigious school rather them be forced to stay with an aunt while her father is away on an extended business trip. Surprisingly, she is accepted and begins her journey only to discover that there are those who don’t want her there and will do anything to get her to leave.
S.T.A.G.S. is interesting enough to hold your attention without bringing much to the table. Think of Heathers meets Lord of the Flies meets Gossip Girl. A rather straightforward 80s horror style plotline that offers little in anticipation as it’s fairly easy to figure out the intent from the beginning. Bennett pretty much kills the suspense with the first line of the book. A fair majority of the story’s appeal has to do with the heroine. Told exclusively from her own point of view, Greer’s inner monologue and sarcastic exchanges with those around her amuses the as the reader follows her on her adventure as she deals with classism, the dangers of an overly technological society, and her own prejudices.
The premise behind S.T.A.G.S. is nothing new. The old war of the classes between the scholarship, minority, and the nouveau riche students (referred to as savages) whom the elites (referred to as Medievals) feel don’t belong at their posh private school and who are singled out and broken either in spirit or body. Or both. Centuries-old traditions inbred into the education of spoiled rich kids whose boredom with life creates a vacuum of sorts where each generation attempts to excel beyond those that came before them.
The story starts out slow and unremarkable as Bennet sets the stage with an in-depth analysis of the school, its faculty and the students. Greer is a chatty girl who tends to go off on tangents when it comes to the mundane while staying remarkably reserved on what I deemed important. Bennett keeps the story flowing on an even keel while indiscriminately flashing us with bits of the outrageous and ridiculousness.
“The servers, likely women from the village, are referred to as dinner bags.”
An invite to a weekend of ‘huntin, fishin, and shootin’ from Greer’s crush (and tormentor) is where the real story begins. Like every 80s/90s horror movie, everyone must have shouted out DON’T GO when reading this scene. We know what is going to happen and Bennett makes sure we know as Greer channels a 19th century English Lit teacher and begins to describe her feelings and the trip. Plenty of purple prose and atmospheric descriptors paints a dramatic picture as she and her two fellow outcasts, Chanel and Shafeen, travel to Longcross Hall, home of the very wealthy de Warlencourt family.
As the story progresses, the pace picks up considerably as does the acts of violence but none of the drama we were promised. Our villain offers Greer an explanation for his actions and while you can certainly understand pieces of it (I refer to the overabundance of technology that commands our lives) the main takeaway is that the rich do as they please because they can. The predictability of the motivations and subsequent results is disappointing. While Greer holds her own against the Medievals despite some of her more oh so teenage moments it’s not because Greer is exceptionally brilliant or crafty, but more because Bennett has written it this way. The ending leaves us with more questions than answers and the feeling there may be a sequel to come.
Overall, S.T.A.G.S. isn’t bad, it’s just not the dramatic and suspenseful thriller you are promised.
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