First things first: this book will be relatable only to a very specific subset of individuals, namely those who grew up very rich and joined Bullingdon-style clubs at their exclusive schools and universities. Having said that, it’s possible to enjoy a book without relating to it, and All These Beautiful Strangers certainly has some things going for it.
Primarily a mystery thriller, the story begins with Charlie Calloway attending a prestigious new school. She has friends, money, good grades and the ability to cherry pick pretty much any university course she wants to study, so what more could she possibly want?
Why, to be a member of the As, of course.
The As are an exclusive secret society of students at her boarding school. Although it’s an unofficial club, not down on any roster or induction week timetable, it’s been running for almost as long as the school itself. Everyone knows it exists, but no one knows who’s in it except the members themselves.
When she and her best friend are both invited to join the As, Charlie is ecstatic, and when she finds out her cousin’s also in, this just makes her day even better. But of course secret societies come with initiation rites, and Charlie almost backs out when she’s taken to the woods and given her own special challenge.
As time goes on, she discovers that the As’ influence stretches beyond the boundaries of the school itself, and that it may reach even into places she could never have thought possible. Like the story behind her mother’s mysterious disappearance a decade ago, for example…
All These Beautiful Strangers was a fun, quick read, but it made me uncomfortable in places because things like this exist in the real world too. I’ve never been to a private school, or joined a secret society of any kind, but I’ve heard more than enough stories about clubs of rich kids deciding they’re above the law to make me feel a bit leery about treating it flippantly. Admittedly the book deals with some serious themes, like what can happen when it all gets out of hand, and how people like this really shouldn’t be above the law, but there’s also a hint of how tasty it can be to feel like you’re a member of something super secret and shiny.
Would I recommend it? I don’t know. It was alright as mysteries go, but not as gripping as I’d have liked, and most of the characters were obnoxious enough for me to not care how their lives turned out. But if exclusive clubs and rich kids messing around with other people’s lives are your thing, this might be up your street.