Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn.
Page Count: 224 pages.
Published: June 11, 2013.
Published by: St. Martin's Griffin.
Source: Received a finished copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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.
*Before I dive into my actual review, I want to put something out there. I've seen a lot of people who were disappointed that this book was not a paranormal romance type book with werewolves. That is indeed not what this book is. If you're looking for a PNR, look elsewhere. HOWEVER, I personally think that this book is so much more than any PNR I've ever read, so don't dismiss it for what it is not. Give it a try for all that it is.*
This isn't the easiest review for me to write because this is one of those books that the less you know going in, the better. Since I don't want to give anything away, I'm going to be a little vague and talk more style than plot. I want you to have the same experience reading it that I did!
With Charm & Strange, Stephanie Kuehn has crafted an intense story that doesn't reveal the full power in it until the end, but the build-up keeps the pages flipping in anticipation. It starts off a little slow but builds continuously to the point where I was frantic to find all the answers. There is a lot kept hidden and disguised that makes it hard to put the book down before the very end. I read it entirely in two sittings, taking a break in between only to eat, because I could not tear myself away. While it isn't an thrill ride right from the beginning, it is clear that everything is building up to something very important and I knew I had to get there.
Drew/Win was a very complex character and his complexity combined with the secrets he keeps made me unable to pull away until I understood him. There was such a tension within him that works so well with the subject matter of the story and I think character and plot were combined perfectly. Seeing the changes that have occurred and the difference between him as Win from him as Drew (who is the focus of alternate-chapter flashbacks) was hard to read at times but absolutely fascinating. Kuehn clearly has an excellent grasp on writing from the male perspective because it felt very natural from Drew/Win. The male narration never felt forced or as if Kuehn was trying too hard. It simply felt as if I was in his mind.
The writing was so well done that I didn't notice I was devouring the story until I realized I was starving and it was getting late. It's not in-your-face fabulous writing but the flow and pacing are spot on and once I actually actively started to notice, I was very impressed with Kuehn's style. It is the kind of writing that creates atmosphere and mystery that were exactly what the slower plot needed for full impact. There are moments of confusion and moments of discomfort during this story that are enhanced by the writing style, and though confusion and discomfort is likely not what you go searching for in books, they just work so well in Charm & Strange that the story is worth the emotions.
This is the kind of book you may dismiss at first for seeming a little unusual; that's what I did. But am I ever glad I gave it a shot because yes, it is unusual. Unusual in that I have never read anything like it before and don't know that I ever will again. Unusual in the way I just could not stop reading. Unusual in just the right way to create a masterpiece. This book is worth so much more than just a passing glance. It is worth a devouring.