Title: Charm and Strange
Author: Stephanie Kuehn
Publisher: Electric Monkey (Egmont)
Publication Date: 2nd January 2014
Source: Review copy from publisher
Goodreads Description: 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.
Review: I had heard a lot about Charm and Strange, even before its Canergie nomination, so when the lovely people at Electric Monkey offered me the chance to review the paperback release I seized the opportunity.
Charm and Strange both is and is not the book it purports to be. I could elaborate on this and normally summarise the novel a lot more than I have, but I think this is one of those stories it is better to go into as unknowing as possible. For this reason, I have only used information given in the synopsis in my summary to explain the book in as few words as possible.
Kuehn uses alternating chapters to show two aspects of the same character, Andrew Winston Winters: Win, the isolated teenager struggling at boarding school in the wake of a tragedy, and Drew, the angry boy with terrifyingly violent thoughts and impulses. This could really have not worked, however Kuehn beautifully and poignantly tells the story and the structure works.
Both sides of Winters were bought to life off the page and were wonderfully complex, developed and realised. It can be very easy to turn highly intelligent characters like Win into quite pretentious and unrealistic ones, however Kuehn avoided this.
The other characters in the book were also just as compelling as the main character and each had their own distinct personalities and complexities that were hinted at throughout the novel. Jordan and Lex, a new student and Win’s former roommate, show that they have their own issues and lives happening beyond Win’s story which really made them feel real to me and not just constructs or cardboard cut-outs.
The prose is wonderful; mysterious, intelligent without being overbearingly pretentious, emotive and complex. I loved the scientific references within the book and the way they added to the characterisation.
Charm and Strange broke my heart a little as I read it. I was so engrossed in Win’s story and understanding what was happening to him and it truly is one of those books that leaves you thinking about it for days. When I finished this book I felt like I’d read something different and special, a book that really stands out and I highly recommend it.
Kuehn is a YA author to watch and I am really looking forward to seeing what she writes next!
I received a free copy from Electric Monkey/ Egmont for reviewing purposes. My review is honest and its tone and content unaffected by the means in which I received the book.