Release Date: 06/11/13
Thanks to the publisher!
Published by: St. Martin's Griffin
Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn
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.
1. (+) Win/Drew, the protagonist - It takes real, raw talent to make readers empathize with an unreliable, and somewhat unlikable protagonist. The teenager Win is not very kind (though sometimes he has good intentions). He pushes everyone away from him, though he's quite lonely, he does some bad things to that effect, and he's strong and prone to violent attacks (summary). Yet there's so much more to him, deeply rooted pain, something that goes way beyond the typical teenage angst. There's also the narrative of adolescent Drew, a strange, intense child who gets motion sick and is angry and acts out... but is also a child: afraid, unsure of the world around him, unstable. The combination of these two narratives makes Win/Drew a stand-out in YA protagonists, complex and real and empathetic... and brave.
2. (+) Character Development - The book alternates between chapters of matter and antimatter to distinguish between the past and present narratives of adolescent Drew and teenager Win. Seeing how Win has developed from Drew, how Drew changes over the course of one summer, how Win develops over the course of one night--it all was utterly compelling.
3. (+) Character Cast - Win/Drew is not the only real and complex character to be found. His older brother, Keith, is... wow, I have no words for that boy. And despite the length of the book, Win's roommate, Lex--his choices, his actions, his words--and somewhat friend, Jordan. The three cousins: Phoebe, Charlie, and Anna. How the decisions and choices of all these individual characters feed back into the plot and the terrible tragedy.
4. (+) The Lure - I don't usually talk about this, but what makes this book so compelling is that it is both a mind bender and tear jerker. From page one, from the first sentence--"I don't feel the presence of God here"--you are drawn into Win's pain, his every emotion as you learn of his past and present tragedy. At the same time, the book raises a lot of questions from the outset... and that will make you want to read on, if only to at least check whether your suspicions are correct.
5. (+) Themes- What is the cost of survival? How do people cope with tragedy? What happens when your faith in yourself, in the world has been broken? How has the past shaped you into who you are, and how has the past refused to fade from your daily life? Can meaning be derived from tragedy? This is a book that deeply explores the psyche of a growing human dealing with pain, loss, and the lines between life, death, love, and identity. Also a bit of psychology v. hard science (charm & strange, quarks, stress reactions, etc.).
6. (+/-) Unanswered Questions - Although I personally thought that this book was wonderfully paced, and a great length, I also found myself a bit frustrated at the end... because I think there are still some unanswered questions. While I understand that that may be part of the point, I think that some of the questions I have are more fundamental to story structure. However, since the majority of reviews on Goodreads are glowing and do not appear to mention this, perhaps this is just me being nitpicky.
7. (+/-) Not for Everyone - This book is not for everyone. I say this not because it is a bad book, but because some people may not be able to handle this book. If you're looking for a happy tale, or something humorous, you won't find it here. For me, this book was also compelling yet not quite engaging. I was compelled, certainly, to read until the end, but because of the dark nature of the themes and the tragedy itself, it's not the kind of book that I felt rooted in--and I'm glad for that, because of the horrific and sad moments. (And in the end, this book has a specific effect, and yes, it's done well, but that also means it's not quite my kind of book.) If this doesn't make sense or you want me to expand, let me know in the comments. I'm trying not to spoil the book for you.
8. (+) The Writing - Raw talent here. The writing is very ambiguous for a reason, but not ambiguous enough to make you feel frustrated or confused. It's the kind of ambiguity that shows how much pain and confusion Win/Drew must feel, and you get the sense that Stephanie Kuehn was very, very careful with each and every word. It was also quite beautiful in some spots and flowed well.
9. (+) Pacing - This book is paced perfectly. It's hard to master alternating chapters of past and present, but Kuehn does this well, building and building to the conclusion when the answers are finally revealed. I would've wanted just a few more pages for my other questions, but other than that, it was the perfect length to capture and keep your attention until the end.
10. (+) The Cover - I am so glad they changed the cover to this one. A great representation of the contents, themes, and main characters (x2, past & present), and again, like the writing: ambiguous. Wonderful job.
There is some alcohol and drug use, and some of the other themes and incidents in this book may make some people uncomfortable sharing it with younger teens. However, this is also a book that is so volatile, so emotionally gut-wrenching and sad and well-written and compelling that it would be a shame for Charm and Strange to not have its own niche with... everyone. It's unlike anything I've ever read, and I would definitely recommend it to Ellen Hopkins fans, as the blurb suggests, or to fans of Jay Asher. Or if you're simply looking for anything new, or a darkly compelling book. I know that I will definitely be reading Stephanie Kuehn's next book.
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