Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin on June 11, 2013
Genres: young adult, contemporary, paranormal, mental health/mental illness
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I have to say, I’m pretty disappointed. All the reviews I saw for this book were glowing. They promised a heartbreaking, mind-bending, haunting read. Instead, I got a confusing one.
Several reviewers have cautioned that it’s best to go into this book not knowing too much, but, given that I was confused even knowing one of the big twists (it’s given away in the categories the book is cataloged under on the back side of the title page), I’m not sure I can say the same. This is a dark book about dark subjects, and I feel I can’t review it honestly without giving away some major, major spoilers. So, be warned, folks. There are massive spoilers ahead. Also, trigger warning for anyone who is sensitive to dark topics.
This story is told non-linearly. It’s split into two different sections (Before and After) and has chapters listed as “Matter” and “Antimatter,” which deal with Win’s life now, and his childhood lived as Drew, respectively. Through these “flashbacks,” we get glimpses into the traumatic childhood Andrew has experiences. We meet his older brother Keith, who comforts him like nobody else can (most of the time) and his little sister, Siobhan, whom Andrew adores. In the “Antimatter” chapters, we experience an Andrew (Win, as the other characters call him) on edge and aware of his own impending breakdown. The chapters are short, and keep the book moving quickly.
However, I feel the length of the book has both pros and cons, the latter being that I didn’t get to connect with the characters very well. Jordan and Win’s other friend whose name I’ve already forgotten had great potential to be developed as interesting, unique characters, but I felt they remained flat in favor of more flashbacks. Had the book been longer, this might not have been an issue.
I also felt the book’s length meant I had more questions than answers at the end. I know this is a psychological thriller and that being in the dark is kind of the norm for that genre, but I felt it was a little too confusing. For example:
((MASSIVE SPOILERS)) Was it just Andrew and Keith who were sexually abused by their father, or was it Siobhan, as well? I would have appreciated if it would have been stated more directly in the book for the reader’s sake; otherwise, we’re left to guess that it was sexual abuse.
Also, how did the three of them come to the conclusion that committing group suicide was the only answer? Whose idea was that? How on Earth did they convince Siobhan? The suicide attempt was talked about very briefly and then never really mentioned again. Like with the abuse, I feel a little bit more explanation is necessary for why they saw this as the only way out. It would’ve helped me connect with the characters more and helped their actions make more sense.
((END SPOILERS)) So, overall, the writing was good, but not good enough to give this book three stars. Though I have to give this book credit for dealing with tough topics, I feel it was too short and too vague and confusing for me to really understand what was going on in it, and I can’t appreciate a book if I can’t understand it.