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S.T.A.G.S. is one of the most fun books I’ve read this year. I just plain enjoyed myself every time I put on my headphones and fired up the audio. I’m a sucker for a boarding school setting and a fight between the privileged upper crust and the scrappy outsiders. There’s something so satisfying about peeking behind the curtain of the very wealthy to discover a seedy or shocking truth. We all have our junk; some of us can just pay more to hide it.

The group calling themselves the Medievals at St. Aidan the Great School can certainly pay a lot. Ringleader Henry de Warlencourt, as you can tell by his bombastically ridiculous name, is a very important and very rich dude who hosts a weekend of “huntin’ shootin’ fishin’” at one of his family’s many estates. Along with the usual coterie of ass-kissing friends, he’s invited three relative nobodies, including narrator Greer MacDonald, a scholarship kid who’s suspicious of Henry’s motives but really wants to fit in. As you might guess if you’ve spent any time watching teen movies, Henry hasn’t invited the social outcasts out of the goodness of his heart. Also, surprise, no adults are present other than a few creepy, taciturn servants. What could go wrong? Probably nothing. Let’s go shoot some animals!

I think the biggest selling point for me was the fantastic performance by audio book narrator Katharine McEwan, who, to my unrefined American ear at least, nailed the various accents and held me in thrall from beginning to end. The tone of the book is very conversational and lends itself well to the format. It feels like sitting down with a friend as they dish about a crazy experience they just had. And it’s the perfect book for gossip hounds with a conscience, because you can’t get in trouble for talking about fictional characters behind their backs.


Find it at your library!

I don’t read much realistic young adult fiction. It’s just not my jam. I already lived through high school once and taught it for another four years, so when it comes to teen angst, I’ve graduated twice. But I love YA fiction that brings another element along with it, like a historical bent or a bizarre fantasy world or a dystopian nightmare scenario. A Line in the Dark is a delightful combo: a YA thriller. And it’s super thrilling because it’s a known and universally accepted fact that there is nothing scarier than a teenage girl.

Jess and Angie have been best friends forever, but there’s always been unacknowledged tension between them because Jess’s feelings are more intense than Angie’s. When Angie starts dating a girl from the fancy private school across town, the tension grows into something bigger and more deadly. And that’s probably all you need to know about the plot, because I don’t want to take away from the slow burn and eventual catastrophic explosion of this book. Teenage girls, a love triangle, complicated feelings, backstabbing, and manipulation. What could be better?

I was nervous about this book because I’d seen some mixed reviews, but I took the risk and bought the hardcover anyway. I am delighted that I was totally vindicated! And now I have that beautiful, sinister cover to adorn my bookshelf and my Instagram feed. I don’t think it’s a spoiler content-wise to say that there’s a big structural shift mid-book, and that’s what some readers have taken issue with. For me, though, that perspective change is what elevates A Line in the Dark above all the predictably structured novels you can find on YA shelves today, and I say props to Malinda Lo for trying something new.

Highly recommended for fans of dark mysteries and authors like Megan Abbott.