Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn
Genre: Young-Adult, Contemporary, Mystery, Werewolves
Publication: June 11th 2013 by St. Martin’s Griffin
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.
Charm & Strange was utterly compelling from the first moment I entered the pages and it haunted me long after putting it down. It’s hard to fully review this book without giving everything away because there is a complexity that is intriguing and the plot whilst I could guess was truly unexpected from my first thoughts. This book is certainly not what it first appears and I applaud Kuehn for her choice of topic and clever handling of it. She chooses to do so in a rather unique fashion and this for me separates Charm & Strange from every other debut on the shelf. Kuehn strove for that originality and in my opinion, she certainly achieved it.
At first I struggled with the narrative style that switched between present and past and Win our unreliable protagonist only managed to make it seem more choppy and jolty with his odd ways and stilted manner at times. However I soon became sucked into the time switches and the prose was genuinely beautiful. I’m not usually one to be bothered by the narrative style all that much, but there was something rather haunting in Kuehn’s style that kept me entranced. I did find that the last part of the book was a little abrupt and rushed compared to the first, very large section of the book and it was rather a let down in terms of suspense. The ultimate end felt like a little bit of anti-climax, but despite this I would urge you to read the book.
From what I can tell, mortality is a word. Nothing more. There’re the things people do when others are watching and the things we do when they aren’t. I’d like to believe Anthony Burgess knew that, but then that dumb last chapter of his book went and ruined the whole thing. That made me mad, and so I think the movie version got it right: people don’t change. Their nature, that is. There are other kinds of change, of course.*
Another point that caused me great confusion to begin with was how to label this book. Is it contemporary or is it paranormal? Well, Win is a very confused and broken teenage boy and it was utterly heart-breaking to feel from his perspective and see through his eyes. I appreciated that we had the teenage boy perspective that wasn’t full of bravado and strength because not every teenage boy is that. Still, he believes he is a wolf and this is the driving force behind the novel and only adds to the unsettling chill and fear that seeps into your bones as you read. It really has an unnerving edge to be in Win’s mind, especially when he moves further and further to the edge of sanity. The journey he takes to uncover himself is one that doesn’t quite slip away from you and for that reason I urge you to read this book. To take the journey with Win and uncover the beauty of Kuehn’s writing craft.
Finally, Kuehn’s novel was absent of romance for Win and for that alone I found it different and refreshing. She focuses on the state of a teenager and the bond between family and I think this enabled me to relate into the storyline and connect with the characters. However I must warn you, the book isn’t all that happy and the rather sombre, dark colours of the new cover certainly reflect the air of despair and mystery at times that encompass this book. It’s poignant, innovative and thought-provoking so don’t miss out. I have nothing else to say, but read it now and be prepared for the unexpected!
4.5 Books / 5 Books
*Quote taken from an uncorrected e-arc copy.