Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Charm & Strange

Final Cover
ARC Cover

Charm & Strange
Stephanie Kuehn
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013
$17.99, Hardcover

Genre: Paranormal, Realistic  
Age: 14+
Description: Andrew Winston Winters is two people. Part of him is Win, the lonely teen sent to live at a remote Vermont boarding school after a tragedy rips his family apart. There Win is the boy that no one dares to approach, except a new girl who doesn’t care about the rumors. However, he is also Drew, the angry young boy who has violent impulses that tend to take over and control him, such as the time the up and coming tennis star lost a match to another boy and proceeded to follow him and beat the crap out of him with his tennis racket. Drew is the little boy from the past who spent a idyllic summer with his brother and sister and cousins and learned a horrible secret that lead to the tragedy Win is eventually running from. Now Win faces his part during the course of one night during a party deep in the New England woods in which his only “friends”—the new girl and the suicidal roommate he saved—attempt to help him come to terms with who—or what—he truly is.
Opinion: This book is interesting to say the least. I have to agree a lot with my first teen reviewer, Sarah. Reading the back of the book and seeing the cover art for the ARC (which was so much better) one thinks that they are going into a supernatural/paranormal story about Win, a boy who may or may not be a werewolf. The story is told through the present day (Win at his new boarding school struggling with his family past) and the past (Win then called Drew who is a very angry young boy who’s family harbors a dark secret). However, (SPOLIERS!) the real truth isn’t what it seems. Win is presented as being a boy waiting for the day that he will first turn into a werewolf like the rest of his family. His dark past involves his older brother and younger sister who died in a suicide park (to die before turning into wolves) that Win was supposed to be part of but (as a 10-year-old) backed out at the last minute and watched his older brother and baby sister jump off a bridge to their deaths. The thing that was annoying with this book was how that past was presented. It clearly gives the reader an idea that this is a supernatural book and it totally isn’t. Win’s dark past is the fact that his father was emotionally and physically abusive with his children and his older brother (either crazy himself or in a misguided attempt to save his younger siblings) convinced them to kill themselves. Don’t get me wrong though—the book was worth the read and very well written (the flashbacks to the past where compelling enough to give you an idea here and there that something truly horrible was going to happen to Drew’s family). However, I agree with Sarah (below) in that there were just some elements that—if this was a psychological-based and not a supernatural-based story—needed logical clarifications to explain away. Having those loose questions (that lead the reader to still wonder if he is maybe a werewolf) needed to have solid answers for the psychological aspect of the novel to reign supreme. It is definitely worth the read; however, you need to make sure your reader doesn’t go into the story with false assumptions about its supernatural nature.  

Here’s what some of my teens had to say:

Sarah, 15, says, “I liked the cover of the book with the full moon and clouds surrounding it. I think it reflected the book pretty well. I’ve seen the supposed cover for publication on Amazon and I don’t like it as much as the more realistic cover on the ARC. The new cover has outlines of people and black lines that represent trees. The full moon (something which I think is important to the story) was removed which is a bit of a bummer. The most compelling aspect of the book was when Win didn’t turn all werewolf-y and had to go to therapy for what happened in his past. I wasn’t really disappointed. I liked how the author used flashbacks to help tell the story. It made the plot more suspenseful and mysterious. The guy on the cover kind of reminds me of Jacob from Twilight. It was a good book. I would not nominate it for Teens’ Top Ten though because I was very confused on the whole concept. The back of the ARC makes it sound like it is going to be some big mystery but then the title was confusing (I am glad the author explained it though in the book!). However, the most confusing aspect was whether he really was a werewolf or just believed he was going to turn into one. I was confused because I think it was supposed to be all in his mind but what made his older brother think the family was werewolves in the first place which led to the suicide pack which killed his brother and younger sister? If Win is just psychologically disturbed then what the heck did he see when his father “turned” or when his cousin was covered in twigs and dirt after she appeared to have been out running with a pack? I like the idea of him not being a werewolf (yay—not another supernatural book) and that it is all in his head but if that is how it is supposed to be interpreted I feel that these occurrences needed to be explained in a rational way that didn’t leave the reader with a ton of questions.  

*Thanks to Talia Sherer at St. Martin’s Griffin for providing an ARC of this title for the YA Galley Group project!*

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