Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Review: CHARM & STRANGE by Stephanie Kuehn

Title: Charm & Strange
Author: Stephanie Kuehn

Summary: When you've been kept cage 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. 

Why I read it: I've heard great things about this one. I follow YA Highway, an author blog, and Stephanie Kuehn is a contributor there, so I've been hearing about her books for a long time. I found this on Book Outlet last summer, and at the end of February, I was looking for something short to finish out the month. This book is only a little over 200 pages, so it perfectly fit the bill!

Thoughts: This is a difficult book to talk about. But it is really, really good.

This book is not so much about plot and action and events. It's a character study.

This book is tough to review. Not because there aren't a million things that I could talk about, because there are. It's because talking about any of them would immediately fall into spoiler territory, and I wouldn't want to ruin the experience of reading this book for anyone. Because that's definitely what it is: an experience.

The atmosphere of this book is dark and moody and very mysterious, and I spent a huge chunk of this book trying to figure out exactly what was going on. Events are hinted at early on, but full explanations for those events don't happen until later in the book after you've had time to figure them out on your own.

The writing is stunning. The metaphors and descriptions really made this book for me. I could really picture everything that was happening, even when it wasn't exactly spelled out for me.

The title comes from quarks, of which there are six kinds, but are usually discussed in pairs: up/down, top/bottom and charm/strange. (Fun fact: I learned this from an episode of The Chase.) The quarks are mentioned in the book, but it is also a fitting title to the book itself. Drew, and especially his older counterpart Win, is charming and strange, and you come to care so much about him, even if he makes it hard.

Though this is wholly Drew/Win's story, the secondary characters are well-developed for the short time that we get to know them. From Drew's brother to Win's friends, I cared about all of them.

It's hard to say that I loved this book, or even that I enjoyed it, because it is not a "nice" book. It is a difficult book that is sometimes hard to swallow. But it is fascinating and beautifully written. It kept me guessing the entire time and when things were slowly revealed, everything fell into place perfectly. It is just a very good book.

I would highly recommend this if you are drawn to dark books with difficult subject matter. It's a short book, but it definitely packs a punch.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Tell me: have YOU read this book yet? What were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below!

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