In “S.T.A.G.S.” by M. A. Bennett, the reader is introduced to the life of the rich and elite through the eyes of a scholarship student who attends a posh British boarding school.
Greer MacDonald, a middle-class girl, is the one token scholarship student attending the $50,000 a year private school attended by Britain’s ultra-wealthy, ultra-upper-class teens. Also attending the school are others who don’t quite fit in with the snobbish students, especially the group of power students, the Medievals, who practically run the school.
When Greer gets an invitation for “Huntin, Shootin, and Fishin,” hosted by the leader of the Medievals, Henry de Warlencourt — the most handsome, wealthy, and charming of the bunch — Greer accepts. Also going are Shafeen, whose nickname is “The Punjabi Playboy” in spite of the fact that he isn’t from Punjab. Although he has attended the posh school for years alongside the others, he isn’t one of them because of the color of his skin. It doesn’t matter that his father is extremely wealthy; his dark skin sets him apart and makes him the butt of cruel Medieval jokes. Likewise, Chanel from Cheshire is mercilessly ridiculed because in spite of her father’s vast newly-made wealth (from inventing a new cell phone that is combination phone and tablet), she doesn’t have the proper accent, the proper well-worn clothes, or the proper pedigree.
What the three find when they are whisked away to the de Warlencourt vast estate is that nothing is as it appears. In fact, far from being courted and considered as future Medievals, they are taunted, belittled, and attacked. All this is in the midst of a palace-like setting where their every need is seen to by scores of servants. Sumptuous dinners, filled with plenty of wine and other liquor, is followed by a day of hunting or shooting.
Bennett’s writing is lovely. She uses first person narrative to really create a sympathetic character in Greer, whose narrative is completely realistic, believable, and compelling. The reader learns at the start that Greer considers herself a murderer. In fact, the first sentence of the book is:
“I think I might be a murderer.”
The action builds as does the suspense. As with any good piece of literature, Greer isn’t a perfect protagonist. She definitely has her flaws, the biggest one being half in love with Henry de Warlencourt, who definitely has no plans to reciprocate her feelings. Bennett does a beautiful job rendering the small exchanges that people have with cutting words or shared emotion. The dialogue works as a lovely counterbalance to the non-stop action of the plot and the detailed descriptions of the lovely old estate.
The reader lives the story through the eyes of Greer MacDonald, through to the exciting end. This is aimed for young adult readers ages 12 and up, but there is nothing inappropriate (except for murder) for rather sophisticated middle grade readers. Adults will enjoy the quick read as well.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Delacorte Press, the publisher, for review purposes.