I am of charm and strange.
At first I wasn’t sure if I would consider Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn (216 pgs) a recommendation or not. I only gave it three stars on Goodreads to start. Because it was sad.
(Yes, I know. This is not the first nor will it be the last book that will get points off for sadness even if, you know, that’s part of the point of the book.)
Ultimately, though, I have decided to mark it as a recommendation because I cannot stop thinking about it.
In fact, this book has a lot in common with Pointe by Brandy Colbert, a book I recommended a few weeks ago. Both books deal with teens who have endured a trauma, and both explore how the teens deal with that trauma.
Charm & Strange differs from Pointe in that main character Drew’s trauma occurred when he was around 9 whereas Theo from Pointe’s trauma occurred at 13. While it may not seem like a big difference, it actually is. Because Drew was so young, his trauma affected what is referred to in the text as his system of meaning–how he understands and relates to the world. Homeboy is disturbed.
Charm & Strange is almost impossible to talk about without spoilers, especially since the book is written specifically to keep Drew’s trauma hidden until he’s able to discuss it. In fact, the point of view is part of why I wasn’t sure if I would recommend this. At times, I found it off-putting. There is SO MUCH narrative distance that it’s hard to connect with Drew, even though the reader is in his head. Again, given the trauma and the narrative that makes perfect sense—and works really well for the novel—but that distance makes it hard to connect with Drew (which, again, is the point. Still). I found myself wishing it were in third person so the distance wouldn’t feel so great, but Drew is so disconnected from himself that the first person shows that more clearly.
However, in the end, it all pays off and makes perfect sense.
So what I liked about this book:
– I like that the catalyst for change is a girl, but not in the ways that are typical of most current YA novels. Jordan is new to the school and curious about Drew, so is willing to talk to him and ask him questions, which most of his classmates don’t do or have learned not to do.
– I really like that his former roommate looks out for him even as Drew tries to push him away. And why? Because he knows Drew’s secret, one of the things Drew thinks distances him from other people.
– The characters are really well-drawn even when the reader only gets glimpses of them. Some great character work here. And Drew’s brother! Oh my heart. Just…right in the gut. He broke my heart the most.
– I really, really, really like that these kids realize they’re in way over their heads with Drew and get adult help in the end.
– More importantly, the book shows the power of one or two people actually paying attention and how much of a difference that can make in a person’s life. The book isn’t preachy at all about that, by the way, but the message is there.
– While the story is sad (so very, very sad), it is ultimately hopeful as almost all good YA is.
– Oh, and it should be pointed out that the cover matches the book perfectly.
In conclusion: This is a complex and satisfying read that I could not stop thinking about after I finished it. It is a little dark, though, so be prepared for that.