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Charm & Strange

Charm & Strange - Stephanie Kuehn This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

4.5 stars

Look at this cover. I didn't think much about it while reading Charm & Strange, but when I finished, I looked at it and wanted to cry.

Win is surly, sullen, and bristling with violence. He attempts to protect others from himself by hiding behind an impenetrable wall. I wasn't sure if I liked him initially, but chapters that alternate between Win's present day life and his life as a young boy, when he was known as Drew, gradually give us insight into the problems that plague him today. These two timelines eventually converge, and we have an ending that will make you say, "Ah, of course," even as it breaks your heart. Charm & Strange made me think of films like Memento and Shutter Island, not because of the plot, but because I felt the need afterwards to replay all of the events in my mind, to try to make sense of everything that had just happened.

With the exception of Jordan, the new girl in school, Win's support system is sketchy, at best. His interactions with his father, brother, grandmother, and three cousins all had me fearing for Win's physical and emotional safety. His father, in particular, seems like a bomb waiting to explode. His oldest cousin's apparent kindness had me questioning her motivations. Win's brother, Keith, is his primary protector, but even he showed occasional flashes of rage. All of these strange, tense interactions go a long way towards understanding Win's mental state, which always seems on the verge of cracking.

This review is rather vague, isn't it? That's by design, because there is too much I could spoil for you. I put this book down, and I immediately wished there was someone else here who had read this book so I could talk about it! Charm & Strange tackles some major, emotionally fraught topics, but none of it is the heavy-handed, in your face type. Kuehn's writing is beautiful, and her story-telling is uniquely powerful, full of terrible things, but with the tiniest glimmer of hope.

Note - I received an ARC from the publisher for the purpose of review.