“S.T.A.G.S” by M.A. Bennett

This one, I read in June, but still failed to post my review. I’m sorry. Maybe I should just give up on this whole book blogging lark — or at least stop pretending to have a regular schedule.


Publication date: August 10th, 2017

The first thing I have to say about this book is that I disagree with the comparative titles listed on the Goodreads blurb, which are Looking for Alaska and The Hunger Games. Yes, there’s a boarding school, but it’s an ancient (well, medieval) English one full of class divides and privilege, and doesn’t resemble the one in Looking for Alaska in the slightest. And yes, there are teens being violent towards other teens, but in a secret, old-fashioned way that looks nothing like the highly televised public world of The Hunger Games.

It’s like they just chose two YA books at random that had a single element in common with this. And more than that, two American ones, which seems an odd choice: this book is very much set in England, and wouldn’t really work anywhere else, but certainly wouldn’t work in the States.

Why? Well, mostly because it’s set in a school that is literally medieval — founded in the 630s, which I found incredibly difficult to believe given how little survives from so early a period, but I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. It’s very much focused on aristocratic heritage and the distinct, obvious class divides that still pervade our country. So it didn’t make sense for me that they didn’t give it British comp titles, or even books that vaguely resembled it. Not that I could really think of any, when I was trying to decide what would have been better: my best point of reference is that it’s KIND OF a British, YA analogue of The Secret History, though it’s got a very different vibe and that’s quite an imperfect comparison. Fits better than those other two though.

ANYWAY. I know this sounds like I’m reviewing the blurb more than the book itself, but I feel like it’s relevant to the themes of the book.

To be honest, when I picked this up, I wasn’t sure if I’d like it; I feared I’d find it uncomfortable and frustrating. I enjoyed it more than I was expecting, but the frustration was definitely there. The main character, Greer made some bizarre decisions that seemed to lack any logic whatsoever, and I found it hard to put myself in her shoes when I think the first way in which we differed was that I’d never have gone to S.T.A.G.S in the first place, because it sounds horrific. Why would you choose to go to an odd, esoteric school full of crazy-rich aristocratic teenagers when you could, like… not?

(It also had a really bizarre-sounding uniform that I honestly couldn’t visualise in the slightest, no matter how hard I tried. I could’ve done with an illustration.)

From taking up her place at St Aidan’s, Greer continued to make increasingly odd choices. Why WOULD you sign up for a weekend of blood sports when you’ve never done it before, and when the people doing it have mostly ignored your existence, or worse? But I guess I’ve mostly never felt the urge to fit in that seems to dictate so many characters’ choices — I spent my school years being deliberately and defiantly weird — so I wouldn’t get that. Also latent romantic feelings aren’t exactly my style.

Overall, my feelings were mixed. I enjoyed the book more than I feared (after how frustrating I found The Secret History and other books like it, I thought I’d given up on books about spoilt murderous rich kids), but I still found it and Greer’s choices somewhat infuriating.

Rating: ***

Buy ‘S.T.A.G.S.’ on Amazon (UK)
Buy ‘S.T.A.G.S.’ on Amazon (US)

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