ARC Review: S.T.A.G.S. by M.A. Bennett

S.T.A.G.S.S.T.A.G.S. by M.A. Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s no point hunting if there’s no kill.

At St. Aidan the Great School, or S.T.A.G.S., new things–and new people–are to be avoided. Unfortunately, Greer MacDonald, token scholarship student, is very much a new person. She has just transferred to S.T.A.G.S., and finds herself ignored at best and mocked at worst by the school’s most admired circle of friends, the Medievals.

So imagine Greer’s surprise when this very group invites her to an exclusive weekend retreat at the private estate of the parents of their unofficial leader, Henry de Warlencourt. It’s billed as a weekend of “huntin’ shootin’ fishin’,” and rumor has it that the invitee who most impresses the group will be given the privilege of becoming a Medieval themselves.

As the weekend begins to take shape, however, it becomes apparent that beyond the luxurious trappings–the fancy clothes the maid lays out on Greer’s bed, the elaborate multicourse dinners held in the Great Hall–there are predators lurking, and they’re out for blood. . . .

Warnings: racism, bullying, attempted murder

A thriller surrounding a secret society in a boarding school? I was so into the concept. Now, technically I had assumed it was a secret society before starting the book but it turns out it was not exactly secret, just exclusive. Three outcasts in a very old boarding school discover hazing in a whole new form when they agree to a weekend of “Huntin’ Shootin’ Fishin'” with the Medievals, the school’s most popular sixsome who have a cult-like status. Greer has always flown under the radar when it comes to the school; she is a scholarship kid who has been friendless for a half-term, and when she gets an opportunity to be included she is ecstatic about it. It also helps that the invitation comes from Henry McWhatshisname (I am not going to bother), who is like the hottest white guy over there. Over the weekend, though, the Medieval’s ambiguous bullying gets more and more shady. .

Now, firstly, and very rightly, you would question why would three kids even agree to such a thing, when, by all appearances it looks like a trap to haze them. Well, when you have a isolated school full of kids who would rather ignore you, any attention seems worthwhile. And Greer is also enchanted by the old money vibe and the aristrocratic trappings of these Medievals, who eschew nearly everything modern and call it ‘Savage’, (Personally, I feel very conflicted about the use of that word in the book considering the colonial undertones behind the word) and most of the school also gets drawn into the same attitude. She is accompanied by Chanel, aka Nel, a rich girl whose ‘new money’ status keeps her out, and Shafeen, an Indian student who is, well, bullied for simply being brown, despite being as elite as the rest of the Medievals.

The three of them are simultaneously charmed and bullied in a manner they can’t exactly pinpoint, which leads to Greer being practically oblivious at first. She is much more charmed by Henry and since this is narrated in a retrospective first-person, you see her berating her own self and passing snarky comments throughout the book. As the weekend gets progressively darker, so does the tension mount. They are essentially trapped in a remote manor, with no one around for miles who is not under Henry’s family pay, and have to be very careful to not let the Medievals know what they know. By the time I had arrived near the climax, my anxiety levels were high, and I was so afraid for these three! The ending gives a nice twist – that’s all I am going to say without spoilers – and I can see this being an excellent thriller movie. Whether it was a cliffhanger or not, well, that is not clear at the moment, but even if it is, that was one awesome ending.

The one thing I was annoyed by was how stupid Greer was at times – yes, she is a teen but come on, Henry was being awful right in front of her rose-tinted eyes, and she still was making excuses for him. Even after seeing the light (and proof in the dead of the night), she is second-guessing things and thinking there is a more friendly way to deal with things. Additionally, she kind of gives away what happens at the end in the first chapter itself, so it takes the mystery out of the equation and only leaves you with mounting dread and tension. I would have much preferred the mystery to also be a part of the plot, but oh well, it was written in a retrospective manner. Overall, a short fast-paced thriller that you can devour in one sitting!

Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Delacorte Press, via Netgalley.

View all my reviews

3 thoughts on “ARC Review: S.T.A.G.S. by M.A. Bennett

  1. I really don’t like main characters who make really ridiculous decisions, so that kind of has me off of this one. But it does sound like it talks about bullying, maybe in an extreme case, but it’s really a problem in real life so I think it will be useful to some people to read.

  2. Pingback: January 2018 Wrap-Up | YA on my Mind

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.