Monday, August 12, 2013

YA Book Pick: Charm & Strange

Once a month, we choose an outstanding YA book to review. We want to spotlight books of interest to aspiring writers, as well as highlight some of our favorite books and authors.
This month's pick is CHARM & STRANGE, by Stephanie Kuehn.

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

Book cover for CHARM & STRANGE by Stephanie KuehnWhen 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. 

First line:  I don't feel the presence of God here.

I was hooked when I read this first line.  It brings the reader straight into a situation that you know is not going to be your typical wake up the bedroom or hanging out at school scenario.  There is a darkness and sense of foreboding that surounds this first sentence.  So many questions are raised but it also reveals a lot about the protagonist and his voice.  

We know that Win is in a situation where he is clearly uncomfortable.  While there is a sense of loneliness that is very prevalent, there is also a tinge of hope.  He is a boy that believes in something more than what's concrete and static around him, he wants something more.


As much as the first line hooked me, Kuehn's ability to create provoking and poignant ends to each chapter is what kept me reading.  Each chapter's last sentence always evoked a sense of danger, poised a question or provided a thoughtful insight into a character's personality that made me want to know more.  

For example, the last two sentences of chapter two are:

For most kids, this milestone means a lot. 

For my brother, it meant everything. 

My interest is perked.  Win is reminiscing of a conversation he had with his brother about losing the believe in Santa Claus.  Something so innocent and yet it meant everything to his brother, why?  Why was it so important to hold onto this small belief?  I'm intrigued.

Kuehn also writes in an organized, non-linear fashion.  Each chapter switches from Win's present day living at the boarding school and flashbacks of his life before tragedy struck.  The family tragedy involved the death of siblings but Kuehn holds back.  She reveals information a little at a time, like peeling away the layers of an onion.  Each chapter reveals more about Win and the people around him but leaves the reader wanted more and reading faster in the hopes of getting more answers. 

Notes for Writers:  

Charm & Strange is a great example of a novel full of great twists and turns.  As many have mentioned, it's difficult to write about Kuehn's debut novel without revealing spoilers or major plot points.  I look at this as a plus because it shows that reviewers care about the experience that other readers will have when they read the book and they want them to have the same "oohs", "ahs" and "gasps!" that they did. 

A good read for: fans of contemporary YA as well as supernatural thrillers.  This novel is a great example of a dark teen male protagonist.

Get ready for a roller coaster ride of thrills and chills!

Special thanks to Martina Boone and Adventures in YA Publishing for sending me such a great novel as part of their Million Visitor giveaway! 


  1. As a mom of 3 boys like the male mc. When my boys get old enough, this sounds like their kind of story.