Author: Stephanie Kuehn
Genre: YA contemporary, paranormal, AWESOME, magical realism, mindfuck
Publication Date: June 11, 2013 (SMP/Macmillan – North America)
Source: Publisher-provided finished copy
Summary: 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.
Review: This is a wonderful, short read that reaches into your head, your heart, and won’t let go until the very final page. You know that feeling when you finish a book and you’re like “What the hell did I just read? BUT WOW I LIKED IT!”? That’s the feeling that “Charm & Strange” will give you once you’ve finished it. Beautifully written, and a total mindfuck worthy of Whedon or Abrams, you won’t be able to put it down, and you’ll want more of it by the last page.
What I loved about this book: aside from the fact it uses quantum physics to create magical realism, it’s the way the POVs and timeline are laid out. It’s slightly dreamy, but after the explanation what quarks are (and why this book is titled the way it is), the current chapters are explained as “matter”, and the past “antimatter”. It’s pretty consistent until there are interludes that break the narrative, which is totally okay because it’s information needed that can’t be described in the matter/antimatter chapters. I also loved the fact that Kuehn used the theory of the Sea of Dirac (kids, look it up on wikipedia) to explain the idea of there may or may not be a supernatural being inside of him fighting to get out, that the Sea of Dirac is the place where all the darkness in him resides, and hints that it’s the place where the darkness in all of us may reside as well. I love an author that can do magical reality, but doing it by way of quantum physics? I kind of wanted to kiss Kuehn for her sheer balls in using science so creatively, and literally making it magic.
For a tiny page count, this story packs a lot of punch. Kuehn, by using the alternating past/current POV chapters creates a completely, beautiful world for each period of time with seemingly little effort – to the point where I was not only amazed, but also envious in how little effort it seemed to take. The past world was built with Win and his family, and the string of events that led to who he is now, and why he’s so very, very damaged. The world of now is augmented by this sense of need – he needs to let the wolf out, but the wolf won’t come. He needs to feel sane, but he can’t seem to hold on. It’s also built by characters: mainly by his old roommate/best friend and the new girl to the boarding school. And as the characters build the world, all of their interaction builds upon the baselines of what we know about each of them. The character web school of worldbuilding here is used, but mostly in the past, and in the current world, it’s the characters and recent events building upon each other and then on top of those older memories. It’s a great way to do things, and Kuehn created an absolutely gorgeous, frightening world that made me long for it long after I finished it.
Her other technical areas are more or less flawless – the sensory language and imagery? Completely flawless. I felt like I really was in those woods, in those memories with my senses intact. I felt everything like the characters did.
Even the feels. Oh god, the feels. Guys, just a warning: your feels will get their feels kicked in the feels, and that just contributes to the wonderful mindfuck we find ourselves in at the end of the book. I love that Kuehn leaves it so very, very ambiguous at the end – is Win a wolf? Was his family really all wolves (and thus kind of making it a “Teen Wolf” alternate universe headcanon for me in terms of the Hale family – that’s just me though, just sayin’)? Or is it all just PTSD from abuse? It’s deliciously vague, and another ballsy risk Kuehn took, and another reason why I love her for it.
Final verdict? This is one of my favorite books of the year, and one of my favorite debuts of the year, period. I can’t wait for Kuehn’s next book. “Charm & Strange” is out now from St. Martin’s Griffin/Macmillan in North America, so definitely be sure to check it out when you get the chance! It definitely deserves the read.