Thursday, November 27, 2014

Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

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.

My Thoughts:

This book.

I picked this up based on nothing but the title. I didn't know anything about it. So at first, as I was reading, I thought it might be a paranormal romance. And then I thought it might be a psychological thriller. Or maybe a murder mystery. But it wasn't any of those. I caught on to what was happening fairly early because of the way it kind of reminded me of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. And once I caught on I was a bit disturbed. But I could not stop reading. 

The story is told from the perspective of a 16-year-old boy named Winston who is at boarding school. It switches back and forth between present day and memories and, sometimes, dreams and an almost fantasy-like element. It is hard to tell what is real in this book until you reach the end. And it's hard to describe it to you without spoiling it all. 

All I will say is that it was hauntingly beautiful. Touching and sad, depressing and disheartening; This book was not happy in any way but it was so real. Kuehn set a very sombre mood from the beginning. The narration was slightly disjointed and distanced but it made so much sense once you realized what was going on. But it's written in such a way that you kind of have no idea what's going on for a while. The reader is just as confused as Win. And when you finally reach the reveal it's just as emotional for you as it is for him.

I loved how Kuehn didn't explain every little thing. She didn't assume the reader was an idiot, and thank goodness for that because, given the subject matter, I for sure would not have wanted to read every little detail. I was so thankful for the vagueness. The way she didn't say things in the book was more powerful than if she had said them. But, oh, was it was real. And so depressing. I loved and hated the realness of it. 

This is one of those books that I don't know if I would recommend for teenagers. There's a lot of heavy stuff buried in here. It's done very well and I think it's one of those subjects that people don't understand and probably should try to understand. So maybe I would recommend it for teenagers? I can't decide. It's real. It's life. This stuff happens and people should know about it and understand it. But it's heavy. And kind of, just a little bit, jades you about the world.

Sexual Content: Moderate (nothing graphic but so, so much of the story hinges on sexual content)
Language: Moderate (used sparingly and effectively but there are some big, bad words)
Violence: Mild
Drugs/Alcohol: Moderate

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