Published by St. Martin's Griffin on June 11, 2013
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.
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.
Review posted at Goodreads.