Title: Charm and Strange
Author: Stephanie Kuehn
Rating: 4 Stars
Release Date: June 11th, 2013
Frankly speaking, I am at a loss for words when it comes to Charm and Strange. On one hand, I think this book is brilliant. Its narrator is unreliable and by the end, you are just as shocked and confused and he himself is, I suspect, if not more. Furthermore, the ambiguous ending had my mind reeling with its realistic quality and the lack of romance was surprisingly refreshing. I have never seen the issue this book tackles expressed in this way before – or even thought to see it expressed this way, really – which makes Charm and Strange easily the most original and creative debut I've probably ever read.
On the other hand, though, I have to admit to being slightly disappointed by the time this book neared the end. For chapters upon chapters, I was hooked, chilled to the bone and achingly afraid that my eyes were about to burst any time into the tears I could just feel in the back of my eyes, pushing against my skull, but they never came. Somehow, the transition between the two parts of this book – “Before” which makes up roughly 85% of the novel and “After” which makes up the ending - was too jarring and that last 15%, though still very good, was not what I expected. I wanted something to simply drive all that feeling home, despite my fear of it because I was so emotionally attached to this, but it didn't. Instead, that last part felt like an objective description of events instead of the intense psychological probing the first part of this book had been.
And yet, I am in utter awe of Kuehn's ability. Charm and Strange follows the story of Win, a teenage boy who believes he may be a wolf. As Win’s story unravels, every chapter alternates between the present and a collection of past memories. At first, these memories seem disjointed and out of place, but as the novel continues, the harsh reality of the pages hit you in the gut. It is intense. It is scary. It is life. Kuehn is one of those few authors who is able to transition from past to present seamlessly and this only adds to the depth and beauty of her debut. From the beginning, she sets a dark tone, one that inspires curiosity, but also caution. And yet, despite this latter emotion, Kuehn ensures that her readers are well and truly sucked into her tale. I have never had a family like that of Win, never known anything in my life that is similar to his experiences, and yet it felt like I had. It felt like I had this older brother, this younger sister, these three cousins...it felt so real. And it is this ability of hers, to mold the uncertain past into a palpable reality that renders this novel so brilliant. If, like me, you ache for books to make you truly feel emotion, Kuehn is one of the few authors who succeeds extraordinarily well.
Honestly, I am so, so impressed. Charm and Strange may not have been everything I wanted from it, but I went into it with high expectations, not knowing if this was contemporary or paranormal or something in-between, and it delivered. At this point, despite the ambiguity of my review (you will thank me later, I promise you), I can only tell you this: read it.
I was lucky enough to receive a finished copy of this novel before the publication date from the kind people over at St. Martin's Press and although I absolutely LOVE this book, I really want other readers to have the opportunity to discover it as well - and soon! Hence, the giveaway. I know I don't do a lot of these, which is why I've made the giveaway international. As always, please don't cheat - I do actually check the entries - and GOOD LUCK! :)a Rafflecopter giveaway