Jill is a high school senior enjoying exclusive membership in a small group of eight who rule a secretive club called the Players at her private prep school. (Well, it used to be eight, except one was killed some months ago by one of the other members of the group, so now there are only six of them.) The six are smart and talented in their individual ways, attractive, socially “cool,” and are aiming for high-powered university educations. They live in an exclusive beachfront community in Long Island known as the Gold Coast. Some of their parents are exceedingly wealthy, successful, and largely absent from their children’s lives. Others come from working class backgrounds but have managed to squeeze themselves into a community they hope will provide their children with the advantages of life they themselves never enjoyed. Parental expectations weigh heavily on the children.
The Players conduct what is a Greek house-type rush event every year and proceed to subject potential new members to cruel and humiliating tasks and (ultimately for most) initiation. Although Jill and her best friend Nikki have sworn that now they are in charge things will be different, in fact they remain the same, with Nikki wanting to get some revenge for her past treatment and Jill becoming more and more disgusted. Jill also remains conflicted over the death of their former member Shaila and whether her boyfriend (the other missing member) actually killed her or not. The rest of the Players want to just forget all about it (or, rather, hide what happened) and focus on getting out of school and on with their future plans.
It DOES appear that this group is the envy of their classmates and, goodness knows, it’s a position high school students want to be in. Unbeknownst to non-Players, the group has access to an extensive file of old exams, answer sheets, and educational contacts that allow them to cheat and scheme their way to the top if/when their natural abilities or preparation fail them. They also engage in excessive drinking, drug-taking, and sex. Although ostensibly considered equal partners, the girls gradually come to realize they are actually the pawns of the male members of the group, subjected to harsher and more humiliating treatment and responsibility. Jill eventually quits the group and sets about helping to solve the mystery of Shaila’s death and supposed murderer. This leads to significant consequences for her, both good and bad.
The book starts out in a somewhat simplistic and stereotypical manner, but it rapidly becomes a layered and thoughtful examination of young adult advancement toward maturity. There is a wide range of fully fleshed-out characters and relationships. The mystery is well-plotted and concluded in a satisfactory way.
The book contains violence, a great deal of coarse language, graphic sex, homosexual relationships, and sexual harassment. Some students DO resist falling into line with what their peers are doing. Judge your audiences and community values accordingly.
Categories: Addiction, Bullying, Controversial YA Topics, Dysfunctional Relationships, LGBTQIA, Navigating through High School, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Parent Conflict, Peer Relationships, Social Media