League of Strays

League of Strays - L.B. Schulman Bullying is a difficult subject matter to write about, but I think it's one that's worth merit considering many kids, pre-teens, and teens are subject to it at schools. It is also worth talking about peer pressure and how being part of certain groups that influence one to do terrible things to other people are immoral.That said, I think "League of Strays" started out as being a book that wanted to show the induction of a girl, among many students, into a secret group that functions like a cult, with a charismatic but dangerous leader to boot. I actually give that idea merit because with a premise of that nature, this could've turned out to be a book that came across with a lot of emotional punch and a strong message behind it.Instead, after finishing this, I feel emotionally sucker-punched in the wrong way. It wasn't good, I'm going to say that point blank. There were so many portrayals that came across as half-handed that it made me feel frustrated, and I couldn't believe that they weren't vetted out of this respective book, nor do I believe that the heroine of this novel does some of the things she does. Granted, I do see moments where Charlotte acted well to be able to put herself out of the group's influences, but I did not like the routes she took while getting there. Not at all.Let me give a brief summary of the book before I go into any further details: Charlotte is a young woman who's recruited into a secret group called the "League of Strays". She meets in secret with a group of people who aren't sure why they're there, until the darkly charming Kade shows up. He profiles every single one of the members of their respective history, and champions the group as a friend system that supports each other, despite some jarring putdowns. He asks the group what some of their worst bullying experiences were and after some understandably hurtful accounts, decides to take matters into the Leagues' hands. They begin getting even with the parties that have wronged them - it's appropriate to say "revenge bullying" to describe this process. From burning a grade book to sabotaging school property to insinuating a kid is gay and results in that kid being beaten for that reason.Wait...what?*starts humming* One of these things is not like the other...all of these things are quite terribly wrong.I'll backtrack a bit and explain. Charlotte, among some of the other girls who are in the group of Strays are following Kade because he's apparently a hot boy who can do no wrong. Nevermind that he tells Charlotte that she looks like a former love interest he used to know and knew the shortcut that girl took home. Never mind that said girl no longer went to the school because of Kade, and Kade admits this readily - proudly even. I think at this insinuation, people are to think that there's something more to him than meets the eye - a bad framework, but Charlotte doesn't see it. Yet. She chalks it off as "research."The burning of the gradebook and the vandalism I saw as the teens being immoral. I understood the context and followed it without very many qualms. When the acts of vengeance became more violent, my resolve wavered a bit. I'll admit, I'd first heard about the implied gay bullying scene from some of my respected circles of readers. That deterred me at first from picking up the book. I decided to take a chance and see the context. It's a blunt portrayal, even more twisted seeing how some of the members were taking pleasure in watching the attack, and wanting the character to not succeed in escaping. But things get more icky as the book goes on.For one, the bullied character who's actually gay - Richie (who might be the only character I liked in this book, to an extent) ends up being at the blunt end of a manipulation scheme that not only results in him getting hurt (maybe not as hurt as he would've been - to Kade's devised plan), but also seems to resolve the conflict by portraying Richie as going back in the closet, technically speaking.This upset me on a few levels. One, Kade knew that Dave (who suspected Richie had something to do with the plot, which ended up breaking the jock's arm) would try to pursue Richie and beat him up. Yet, Kade knew that he didn't want to jeopardize the Strays' identity. So what does he do? Makes one of the female members of the strays intervene while Dave gets a few blows in, and allows the girl to claim to be Richie's girlfriend. Dave apologizes because he thinks he was mistaken in assuming Richie's sexuality. Problem solved. Actually no, it's not solved at all - it's made that much more complicated in an offensive way.Look, I'm going to interject here - it's hard enough that many teens struggle coming to terms with their identities in this stage of life - whether it's finding ways to be independent, keeping up with school, finding their identity socially, physically, mentally, emotionally, sexually or other considerations at certain stages. But the one thing that should be clear is that a person of any age should never feel afraid enough to hide who they are - no matter what the dimension entails - gender, age, race, orientation, religion - what have you. Granted, Richie's character is a confident one in spurts, and I like that about him. However, Kade manipulates Richie in a way that closes his identity in again, and Charlotte distinctly states that she can't give the impression that Richie's gay because it will get him beat up again. I don't know whether to take it as a part of Kade's manipulations or if the scene was just that ambiguous on what it was supposed to portray.Things get much worse. As Charlotte starts questioning Kade's motivations in the mix of her romantic interactions with him, she starts uncovering dangerous parts of his past. There is a fair amount of victim blaming because it involves an assault. One of the things Charlotte says about it? Quoted:"Even if it is him, she dropped the charges. That proves him innocent, right?"I think my jaw dropped to the floor. So then Charlotte proceeds to call the victim and it results in one of the most emotionally detached scenes in the whole book. I didn't find it realistic at all. It was mostly telling and the violence of the act didn't match the emotional delivery.Yes, eventually Charlotte does find Kade to be dangerous, scary, and repulsive, but the way getting there is rather rough, and I didn't appreciate some of the portrayals here. I'm not saying that Schulman isn't a decent writer, but the transitions here are very rough and don't make sense with respect to the characterizations in points. That hurts the portrayal more than helps it.Overall, I think there are better books that show the repercussions of bullying/peer pressure, and manage to do it in a thrilling way without seeming so farfetched.Overall score: 1/5Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher ABRAMS/Amulet Books.