The Loners by Lex Thomas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I received an ARC for this on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. No sort of bribes, trades, or illegal transactions for 1004,000 rare diamond unicorns, although I don't mind that as a Christmas gift.
While the Hunger Games is an exciting yet toned-down novel in terms of action and how Battle Royale doesn’t shy away from the gory scenes, the Loners by Lex Thomas is somewhere in the middle of those teenage survival stories: it’s not exactly as bloody as BR, yet it manages to provoke something darker than the Hunger Games. It’s perfect for slightly mature readers in the YA genre. However, the main thing that stopped me from rating it five stars was one thing: the world.
Imagine this: it’s your first day back in high school. Your emotions may run from slightly nervous from extremely excited, or you might feel nothing and just sashay into the halls like nobody’s business. But what if suddenly, all the teachers and students over the age of eighteen dropped dead, and the doors were barred so that no one could get out of the school? What if you were left in the dark for two weeks relying on nothing but the supplies inside the school, until the military comes in saying that there’s a deadly virus that kills adults within you and the other kids, and you’re only allowed to go out once you’ve turned eighteen? In that scenario, it’s really hard to say, since it depends on your personality. This is what happens in this book, and this is why survival/last-one-standing-wins stories are interesting: you just don’t know.
The Loners centers on three main characters: David Thrope, your average nice guy; Will, the younger brother stuck in his sibling’s shadow; Lucy, a girl with no other clique to stay with. When David goes to a party before the first day of high school, still depressed after his mother’s death, he soon finds out that his girlfriend was cheating on him with his arch-nemesis, Sam, and then proceeds to hit him. Not the wisest move, since Sam took David’s old spot as the quarterback on the football team, and now David’s chances of getting back on the team and fitting in are now officially screwed.
When his freshman brother, Will, goes with him to the first day of school and gets locked in with the rest of them, they’re forced to live in the fringes of McKinley high school as loners and not receiving the benefits of being a gang member. They try to live off the radar while attempting to survive, but all that changes when David rescues Lucy, a former member of the Pretty Ones, from getting raped from a guy in Varsity. He accidentally ends up killing the jock, inflicting the wrath of two of the most powerful groups. David is now wanted, and Will, in love with Lucy ever since last summer, just wants to end up protecting her, but Lucy likes someone else. With different dynamics and deception going on, what will they do?
In my opinion, the world-building was its biggest fault. There were so many outcomes and paths that were possible, but the story opts for an easier route and bases the entire groups on stereotypical high school cliques. As a reference, here are some of the names for the gangs: Nerds, Sluts, the Pretty Ones (which are basically . . . well, the pretty girls), Skaters . . . it isn’t the most interesting concept, to be honest. The groups acted like molds, and they didn’t provide much interest. It takes a few seconds to let it sink in your head that if you don’t belong to a group you’re basically screwed and instantly put into the outcast territory. While I do agree that people would pack together, I don’t see how cliques would combine. Personally, I’d rather go with my friends who I trust the most than people who’re like me, yet I wouldn’t be able to trust them that well. Plus, they dye their hairs corresponding to their group’s color. I didn’t really see the point of that part, but anyway, let’s move on!
The plot had a few shining moments hidden inside, but if you’ve read Michael Grant’s Gone series, the formula is similar to that—and come to think of that, almost the characters, so this book may inevitably get comparison to that series. You have the shining hero, the shining hero’s love interest, the guy who’s close to the shining hero and who crushes on the shining hero’s love interest, the bad guy who relies on other people to do the work for him, and the eclectic bunch of characters whose roles depend on the situation. If you compare Gone and the Loners, you’ll notice that the plot is almost the same way: you have the shining hero doing something to piss the bad guy off, bad guy hides and conducts plan while SH and SH’s love interest get it on while trying to keep the people in control, TGWCTTSHAWCOTSHLI either makes a move on SH’s love interest and/or does a bunch of other tasks, and when you least expect it, TADA—bad guy’s back, with friends and an evil plan!
Don’t get me wrong though, there are certain differences defining the two novels apart. While Gone focuses more on the plot and psychological aspects of a no-adult situation later on in the series, the Loners drives something more mainstream. Think of action with every day high school worries, such as liking someone who only likes you as a friend, or staying with someone you hate only because you get some benefits in return. Both have their high and low points, which we’ll get to right now.
Not going to lie—the time skips were irking, even though I knew they were meant so that we could get access to the exciting parts ASAP. In the very first chapter, there’s David in a food-collecting scene. That’s cool. Then, the next chapter is a flashback. Okay. Third chapter is two weeks after the flashback. Um, sure! Then the fourth chapter is a year later after the flashback, aka the first chapter.
I got really confused, especially when new details were mentioned, like how some people had white hair because of their disease. Although no major time skips were made over the book, there were lots of situations that were simply skimmed over and given via dialog. Here’s one example:
"I tried to stop him from leaving, but he wouldn't listen,” Lucy said. “He said the Loners would never forgive him. He thought they might even try to kill him.”
Note that the character here is a significant player in the turn of events. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t remember seeing a scene like that in the novel. This is actually one of the biggest reasons, because while the writing was fast-paced and there were no unnecessary scenes, it needed to slow down a bit. Especially in the last scene, where I was like, “What? How did that happen?”
The characters were in the middle box for me. They weren’t unreadable, but I wasn’t rooting for them until the very end. There just wasn’t anything defining them apart aside from their roles. Ironically, I actually enjoyed Will and Sam more than the others. Lucy’s your average YA heroine: nice, has the damsel-in-distress syndrome, but otherwise makes a decent narrator. David was the male counterpart of Lucy, except like all heroes, he played a bigger role, but as the story grew on his POV was used less and less.
Despite the cons mentioned, I did like this book. While the main characters were meh-worthy, the side characters added more life to the story. Hilary, despite being a bitch, was interesting to read, and so were the other semi-important characters like Violent and Smudge. In the second book, it would be nice to see more of them, since they were actually more intriguing than the rest of the protagonists.
Also, the action scenes? Perfect. Being a teenager, there was enough blood, yet it didn’t go over the top. There was scene that freaked me out, and for a few seconds, I just stood there, not believing the situation. The ending was also hooking, but not in the way you’re simply dying to get your hands on the next book. It was a good change from the rest of the YA novels out there.
Does this series have potential? Yes. Was it shown properly in this book? Well, yes, but it needs some brushing up on. Will I read the next book? Definitely.
In a Nutshell
While having some faults of its own, for survival junkies looking for a YA dose, this is one book I’ll be recommending. 3.5 stars.
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