Friday, May 10, 2013

Review: Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

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I received this book for free from St. Martin's Griffin in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Charm & Strange by Stephanie KuehnCharm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on June 11th, 2013
Genres: YA
Source: St. Martin's Griffin
Buy on Amazon

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.

This book takes mind-fuck to a whole new level–and excuse my french, but there is really no calling this one any different.

Charm and Strange is… well it is very definitely strange. This is probably one of the most baffling books I’ve read. I was unable to stop thinking and questioning and wondering about every single thing that was going on in this book. It felt like it was going to go one route, only to leave me completely bewildered by the direction it did take. While you will likely want to discuss this book the second you turn the last page, once the ending comes, so does clarity. The confusion is not an irritation while reading either, on the contrary, it’s a fascinating and spellbinding confusion that keeps you absolutely unable to think about anything else until you have finally come to understand.

There is a pro and a con side to this novel. The big secret of the plot–what dumbfounded and what made this book truly brilliant in my eyes–will unlikely not stay a secret very long. It’s one of those spoilers that simply can’t be avoided. I can’t even tell you why, but by simply glancing at how this book is described in many reviews in the most general of terms could completely change how you’ll take the story. However this is not necessarily a bad thing. What you expect from this novel, and what you get from it in the end, will decide what you take from it. If you’re expecting a certain type or paranormal tale, or a certain style of storytelling, then you may or may not hate what it actually is. I am probably making absolutely no sense to you right now, eh? If you take only one thing from this review, it’s that you should read this book with ZERO expectations of anything–which is how I experienced it. Do not read the book synopsis, do not check out its Goodreads page, don’t even check what freaking genre it is, just read it. You will thank me! And PS- this review is 100% spoiler free of any kind! 😉

With that said, it’s obvious that this review can’t go into very much plot details, so lets talk characters and writing. Both are exquisite. Our protagonist is one of the most complex character studies I have seen in YA literature. He’s created with such fine threads that you’re truly afraid his instability will crack at any second. We’re taken into his past with alternating past/present chapters where we learn of his upbringing, how he became the broken individual we were introduced to. On one hand, this makes you understand his state of mind, turning any dislike for his bizarre, unlikeable personality into sympathy, but on the other hand it can be a little hard to keep track of two different stories. Yes the two stories are interconnected, and they ultimately merge into one, they still remain fairly separate until then; each having independent characters and settings. I think it was extremely important to disclose the story in this manner so I wouldn’t want it to be any different, just that it did take me a bit to situate myself every time I picked up the book–as if I needed to feel more confused!

As for the writing, it’s unblemished with a prose that is sophisticated yet simple. It doesn’t rush nor does it bore. Its prominent feature is its ambiguity. From the very first page everything is cryptically described, from the past, to the family members, to the relationships, to the wolves, and finally to the present. Nothing is freely given, yet everything is left for us to take, to decipher. While some might think this would be hard to get into it’s the exact opposite. We’re so starved for meaning that it becomes the oil that greases the wheels of this penetrating story.

An exceptionally perplexing novel, Charm and Strange is the type of read where you do not want to move after you’re done. You need time to sit and process what exactly you just got through reading. If you want a book that stands out from the rest, this one has its own playing field!


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Canadian blogger, wife, mother, coffee lover, and sarcastic at heart! She has had a love for all things bookish since before Amazon and eReaders existed *le gasp*. You can also find her organizing tours and other fun things at Xpresso Book Tours.

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27 Responses to “Review: Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn”

  1. Melanie

    I guess I’m okay with books with a lot of mind fuck. But I do like the sound of Charm & Strange, sounds mysteriously weird! It’s always nice to just sit and think about a book for a long time- another one of my favourite procrastinating pastimes. Hehe 😉

    Lovely review, Giselle! I’ll be keeping an eye out for this one. 😉

  2. Christina

    Well, this is an interesting review. “An exceptionally perplexing novel” <- Oh really? My curiosity is certainly sparked. This is such an odd reaction from you, and different from Blythe's. Hopefully I get a copy!

  3. Amy

    Dude, I think I need this book, like ASAP. I love a good mind fuck and I am so intrigued by your review. Now I want to know what this confusing awesomeness is all about.

  4. Mary @ BookSwarm

    Wow. You know, I haven’t heard of this one but now, I have the intense desire to read it for all it’s mind-f*#k properties! It sounds like the simple writing works well in this case, considering the story itself is so crazy.

  5. Molli

    I was SO curious how you were going to review this one. I’m still thinking about what to say because I don’t want to give anything way, but I DO want people to read it. GAH. Anyway, this review is pretty much perfect, Giselle!

  6. Silverlight

    What a fantastic review, cupcake! You definitely piqued my interest, and dude it’s setting is in the New England woods, only a few hours away from my neck of the woods!–Yep, I’m game!!

  7. Sarah Elizabeth

    Yikes! Baffling and strange? I have to say that I’m slightly confused just by the blurb! Perhaps better I don’t read this one! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  8. Shooting Stars Mag

    Ooh I love a book that really makes you think and takes you on a wild ride. Sounds like I need to check this out! Thanks for the spoiler-free review. I’m so curious now!!

  9. Faye M.

    I just read this book and found it absolutely amazing, so I truly feel with you here! I got to the ending and I tried to think about what the book, altogether and as a whole, really really meant. I think I understood what happened, somehow, that it’s not just, you know, a PR tale, it’s just… different and exquisitely told to make it seem that way. I am unsure if I am making any sense at all here, and I may be wrong myself! 😀 Great review, Giselle! At least you were able to say your thoughts in words. As for myself, I’m still unsure how!

    Faye @ The Social Potato Reviews

  10. Rachel @ Unforgettable Books

    “We’re so starved for meaning that it becomes the oil that greases the wheels of this penetrating story.” One of the best analogies ever! Wonderful secretive review! You intrigued me to read this Giselle! I’m glad you strayed away from saying everything that would happen and just wrote about your thoughts of the protagonist and the originally of the story as a whole.

  11. Jen (A Reading Daydreamer)

    Thankfully, I actually have no idea what this book is about! And I’m going to take your advice and not read the synopsis, either. Thanks for not spoiling anything! 😉 I love a good author that can write in a sophisticated manner, yet in a simple way– her writing sounds perfect for me! I’m definitely curious about this book now: why is it a mind-fuck? Why must I go into not knowing ANYTHING? Anyway, awesome review, Giselle! 🙂

  12. Ariella Blake

    At first, I was just like, “HOLY SHIT SHE SWORE..” then I got over it and read the rest of your review. Honestly though, I don’t really mind the mind-fuck. I wasn’t going to pick this one up because it sounded a bit strange and not what I would usually read but I think now I’ll give it a try!

    -Ariella @ Secrets of Lost Words

  13. Kat Balcombe

    I’ve been avoiding reviews and almost all discussion about this book because I want to read it blind (so to speak!). Thanks for not spoiling 😉

  14. Megan K.

    Even though the cover for this one is kind of hideous, I’m liking the sound of this, especially when you put it this way: “This book takes mind-fuck to a whole new level” I doubt I’ve read anything that messes with my mind – like, literally messes with the mind – so I’m quite intrigued about Charm & Strange! The characters and writing sound marvelous as well. Wonderful review as always, Giselle. 🙂

  15. Lauren Elizabeth

    I haven’t read any other reviews of this yet, but I’m loving what I hear so far. I actually like a good mind eff every now and again, and exquisite writing and characters is really enough of a selling point on their own. I also love books that play by their own rules. I read so many similar plots and characters these days I’m always on the lookout for something original. I’m staying well clear of Goodreads on this one—I want to be surprised. Fantastic review, can’t wait to read this!

  16. Mel@Thedailyprophecy

    Interesting! It’s a shame I’ve already read the blurb though, so I have an idea what it’s all about. But thanks for the warning, because I will stay away from any other review now 🙂

  17. Kristin @ My ParaHangover

    I caught the first few words of your review, LMAO, and then promptly added this to my TBR! I will now avoid the blurb and any other reviews (it’s called clever commenting – coming up with pithy things to say while scanning a post! AAAhhhhhhh!) You are a wordsmith of no match… okay, Bookish Brunette is a good match but you guys have the flare for words!!!

    LOVE IT!!!!!

  18. Alexa Y.

    This sounds very mysterious indeed! I like that I have no idea what this is about – I’m basically fascinated by the title, the cover and your review. It sounds like a potentially good read, and I intend to check it out for myself soon.

  19. Dea S.

    I’m sold by the time I finish the second paragraph! LOL. I love books that make me a bit less sane for thinking about it too much. Weird, I know. Seems like this book took Strange to a whole new level. Now I can’t for it. Gaaaah Giselle. Awesome review, as usual 😉

  20. Lyn Kaye

    Oh! I am going to stop at the “spoiler” part and add this one to my list! If I ever get it, I’ll have to pop back here and read your whole review!