Charm & StrangeFeaturedHot
Stuck at a remote Vermont boarding school in the wake of unimaginable tragedy, Win knows it’s only a matter of time until he transforms into something dark, something wolfish, just like his father. Until he hurts people too. So in order to do the least amount of harm to those around him, he masters the art of shutting others out.
But meeting fellow cross-country runner Jordan Herrera thwarts Win's plans for emotional isolation. A scholarship student with secrets of her own, Jordan’s boldness and wit draw him in. And when she asks Win to accompany her to an all-night party in the deep New England woods, he’s torn. Because he’s not sure they should get any closer. He’s not sure Jordan will be safe with him. But she insists. And he goes.
Win wants to believe he’s not dangerous. That he would never hurt someone he cares for. But as he leads Jordan into the wilderness with his father’s blood running through his veins and wild wolves running through his fragile mind, Win knows this is simply not true….
Portrayal of mental illness: In her debut Stephanie Kuehn is a master at showing how mental illness develops over time. With the chapters alternating between the past and the present, we see how Drew changes into Win; we see how his mind changes and how that affects his behavior, thoughts, and actions. I imagine that the author's background in psychology helps with this, but it still isn't easy writing an inside perspective on mental health, and she is the best YA author at doing this thing.
Plot and suspense: So incredibly well done. Chapter alternate between "matter" (the present), and "antimatter" (the past), and this is really the only way to tell this particular story. We get the past from 10 year-old Drew's perspective, and we get the teenage Win's present perspective. In each section, I really had no idea what was going to happen. The suspense was "edge-of-your-seat-thrilling", but that's a good thing. This is not the kind of story you want keeping you up at night, unless you're crying after you finished it. Which may or may not have happened to me. Basically, the whole thing is so very well written.
Characters: One of my favorite things is YA protagonists that we don't immediately love. Stephanie is so good at this. Win is interesting and likable, but he is also really scary and pretty intimidating. I like these complicated main characters, who you're not sure if you can continue to like, who make you think and challenge your expectations. Win's "friends" Lex and Jordan are also very interesting, fully developed characters. They play really important parts in the story, and we know a lot about them, even though they don't actually get a lot of "screen time."
Verdict: This is an incredible, deep, challenging book. Not for the faint of heart or soul. But it will make you stronger, if you pick it up. Highly recommended.
Stephanie Kuehn's debut Charm & Strange is a lot of things: confusing, frustrating, disturbing, thought-provoking, dark, and original. Starting out a career as an author with such an unusual book shows daring. Charm & Strange will not please every reader, and I myself felt largely ambivalent towards it until the very end. Those final scenes, though, helped Charm & Strange coalesce into something harsh but meaningful, something I'm glad to have read, if not understood fully.
Kuehn's writing style perfectly matches the character of Anrew/Winston (his first and middle name, which he goes by at different times of life). The narration is sort of fragmented, filled with commas and semi-colons. Punctuation breaks up the thoughts into little pieces, clearly illustrating Winston's troubled mind. He says nothing directly. For me, the writing was really tough to fathom, to piece together, which did result in a lot of confusion, but, artistically, I do think it's brilliant.
Much of what's admirable I cannot really speak to, as talking about this book to any great degree would involve spoilers. Suffice it to say that the twists are both deeply upsetting, perhaps even going marginally too far, but that the way everything ties together is impressive. From a psychological perspective, the conclusion is compelling and satisfying.
What brought things together for me were the final scenes. Kuehn imbues the ending with a bit of hope, but there's no happily ever after, and Winston's still got major issues to deal with. Rarely do endings like this show up in YA, with the hero or heroine still mostly broken and without a true love to cushion the loss of everything else. Still, there is that ray of hope, which shows through in Andrew's reversion to his first name and his much more easily parsed language.
What Left Me Wanting More:
There were three reasons I struggled so much with this book for most of its pages. The first is our narrator. Win is a brilliant teen, but a cold, aloof one. He keeps himself distant even from the reader, not just from the other kids at his boarding school. As such, he's hard to like, because he really doesn't want the reader to know anything but his worst moments, barely even explaining why he is the way he is, because he wants to wallow in the guilt.
The other two reasons are all bound up together. Win excels at science, and science terminology is dropped throughout the book. In fact, the title is a reference to something to do with quarks, and the chapter headings, alternatively Matter and Antimatter, are scientific as well. Their meaning is actually explained, but it wooshed right over my head. I was able to put together that Matter was Win in the present and that Antimatter was Drew in the past, but that was it. I feel like there's so much that I'm missing from a lack of science brain. Also, I had a lot of trouble navigating between the two timelines, finding that I would have forgotten what Win was doing by the time I finished a Drew section and vice versa.
The Final Verdict:
Though short, Charm & Strange is a read for a patient and well-educated reader, one with a high threshold for tough subject matter. If you're looking for an action-packed paranormal romance, you are in one hundred percent the wrong place. I will be very curious to see what Kuehn follows this up with.
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 . . .
Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn was simply amazing, it has been a long time since I read a book that really made me remain focused on the story, no drifting could be allowed, this book demands your attention. Written about an extremely important issue Kuehn delves deep into the psychological mindset of the victim, in this case Andrew Winston Winters. However she does it in such a subtle way using metaphors and euphemisms that it isn't horrific and graphic but instead highlights how children adapt their perception on situations to make it appear less horrific. What I really liked was that you didn't really realise what was going on until right at the end, when Kuehn began to break down the wall Drew had created in order to forget his ordeal (basically Drew thinks of his family as werewolves and this helps him deal with his issue.) This continued metaphor softens and actually enhances the impact that writing directly about the ordeal would have. However I don't want to dissect it too much as part of the books charm is unraveling the plot by yourself (finding it very hard to write about it without revealing what this taboo subject Kuehn deals so well with is!)
Kuehn writes the novel by alternating between Andrew's past (antimatter) and Andrew's present (matter). This clear distinction between Drew's flashbacks and his present situation culminates with the final catalyst that causes present Andrews downward spiral into depression and madness being revealed near the end of the book. Although some people may find the changing chapters confusing and difficult to follow; for me, it was a brilliant idea as it helped break up the story and prevented it from becoming too much of an emotional overload. The characters themselves were well developed and unpredictable which added more to the essential suspense of the novel and the masterful way Kuehn made the characters change to fit in with Andrews altered view of his ordeal was amazing as it helped stop the reader guessing immediately what issue she was dealing with and prevented them from losing interest. For three quarters of the novel I was waiting for Drew to turn into a Wolf! I also enjoyed the distinct difference between the characters in Andrews present and past. Present characters were far clearer and easier to follow and pin and more predictable whilst the characters in the past were far darker, hazy and unpredictable as well as drifting in and out of the story.
It was actually kind of scary to read Charm & Strange due to all the emotions it unlocked within me. I've never had depression yet I instantly connected with Andrew and I definitely understood what he was going through. I understood exactly how Andrew was feeling, all those dark feelings swirling around inside of you, threatening to escape. Stephanie Kuehn managed to include so much raw emotion and feeling into Andrew.
Andrew may be a fictional character but he exists because there is a little bit of Andrew inside of everyone. Everyone experiences bad times and dark feelings that you just don't know how to express. Thank you, Stephanie Kuehn for bringing light to horrors that everyone deals with at some point in their life. Stephanie Kuehn has created the most realistic, complex characters that I have ever seen in all of literature. Her characters are the type that don't just live on the page, these are characters that you will keep with you in your mind. You won't be able to forget the characters Kuehn created and you'll be thinking about them long after you finish reading.
Charm & Strange is beautifully written in such an unique, heart-breaking way. This book will fill you with so much emotion that you didn't even know that it was building up inside of you. I loved the literary techniques Kuehn utilized in this book and they were so essential in making Charm & Strange, a hauntingly realistic book. At the end of this book, I couldn't help myself any longer and I just broke down in tears. Do yourself a favor and pick up Charm & Strange, (Note: I'm not responsible if this book shatters your heart into a million pieces and you're an emotional wreck afterwards.) Thank you St. Martin's Griffin for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for a honest review.
-This book filled me with so many emotions and feelings.
-The ending made me break out in tears.
-The author captures grief and heartbreak so well.