A Reader Opines: Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

Charm & Strange

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Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

Published: June 11th 2013 by St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maybe it’s because I have a darkness inside me, but I’ve been pleased to find books that deal with tough issues such as the ones found in Charm & Strange. Authors are becoming fearless and giving voice to everything from depression to abuse. I wish these books had been around when I was a teenager. They would have comforted me during times when I didn’t understand what was happening.

Blurb taken from Goodreads:
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.

A bevy of emotions followed me as I read Charm & Strange. The first few chapters instilled a fear of a hokey ending and I prepared myself to be disappointed. But as the story unfolded and clues began to worm their way into my mind a knot formed in my chest. Disgust and dismay strangled my heart and I couldn’t stop reading. I had to know the outcome and I wanted it to be positive because if it wasn’t my heart would continue to be squeezed.

Stephanie Keuhn writes fluidly with no superfluous content. The story is paced in a manner that leaves you breathless and the major plot points fall like dominoes. The characters are three-dimensional. I could imagine myself talking with them, getting to know them outside the pages of the book.

Drew/Win’s struggle is heartbreaking. Part of me wanted a hokey ending, because that would mean he hadn’t endured such pain and confusion. His battle is against an enemy he doesn’t understand and his strategies leave him vulnerable. Isolating himself isn’t just self-preservation, he truly believes he is protecting those around him.

Although the crux of the story emerges from very ugly circumstances, Keuhn manages to convey that ugliness without becoming graphic. To me, that takes talent. And a lot of class. I loved this book and at the same time was disgusted by its morally revolting nucleus. I highly recommend it, but don’t pick it up thinking it will be a quick, light read. You’ll be blindsided and disillusioned if you do.

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