Author: Stephanie Kuehn (@stephkuehn)
Published: June 2013
Genre: YA contemporary
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
POV: 1st person
Rating: The Royal Library, Top Shelf
When you’ve been kept caged in the dark, it’s impossible to see the forest for the trees. It’s impossible to see anything, really. Not without bars . . .Andrew Winston Winters is at war with himself.He’s part Win, the lonely teenager exiled to a remote Vermont boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy. The guy who shuts all his classmates out, no matter the cost.
He’s part Drew, the angry young boy with violent impulses that control him. The boy who spent a fateful, long-ago summer with his brother and teenage cousins, only to endure a secret so monstrous it led three children to do the unthinkable.
Over the course of one night, while stuck at a party deep in the New England woods, Andrew battles both the pain of his past and the isolation of his present.Before the sun rises, he’ll either surrender his sanity to the wild darkness inside his mind or make peace with the most elemental of truths—that choosing to live can mean so much more than not dying.
It took me a bit more time to read Charm & Strange than a novel usually requires, which is strange when considering the limited number of pages. I didn't keep setting it aside because I hated it. I didn't set it aside because it was boring. I repeatedly set it aside because Kuehn's debut is intense, and it was emotionally a bit difficult to experience the first person narration. Even once I finished the novel, I found myself struggling to write my thoughts down. This is a story that dares you look into the darkness that resides inside one young man, and it's a sight that is challenging to observe.
"Forget summer's heat. I was on fire." 1
With chapters alternating between past (titled antimatter, when Win was a child) and present (titled matter), Charm & Strange tugs readers back and forth with teasing glimpses of who he was/is and what is currently haunting him as Win's secrets come to light. I knew to expect some serious matters, but the truths that are revealed are even more heartbreaking and intense than I initially imagined. This novel initially blends genres as you tiptoe through the story, uncertain of what is true or false within Win's narration. With each page, I was simultaneously eager and hesitant to know more. If you're interested in a story that will fascinate you, horrify you, and generally make you feel, this book will give you all of that and more.
"I'm split. I'm torn.
I am both ever evolving and ever decaying." 2
Highlights: Emotional, evocative, and imaginative, Charm & Strange deserves any praise that it receives. This book is a challenge to read on an emotional level, and thrill to read on an analytic level. Win, both past and present, has a voice that feels so honest that at times I felt uncomfortable reading his story. His family was nicely developed in the past chapters. Kuehn made Win's character and his struggles feel real, and that's the best compliment I can give an author. I realize I'm being vague regarding the story itself, but it's difficult to mention anything detailed without saying too much.
Lowlights: Any problems I had with the story can be contradicted with a highlight. It's a slower, chaotic story. Maybe it would have been nice to see more of the side characters, but the only character I was truly interested in was Win.
Note: There are some serious subjects. I don't want to mention them, because I do not want to spoil the novel, but it's not a lighthearted read. This isn't going to be a book for everyone, but I'd suggest giving it a chance.