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.
First sentence: “I don’t feel the presence of God here.”
You know a book is good when the first sentence hits you in the face, leaving you in awe. I was pretty much like that the entire time I was reading the book. This is one of those books that continues to resonate in my mind like I’m still turning stones over, trying to make sense of it all by rereading it and searching for foreshadowing.
Charm & Strange is difficult to talk about without giving away too much of what happens. It’s a bizarre, yet powerful story that is told from a male’s point of view, and that switches between the past (“antimatter”) and the present (“matter”). In the past, Andrew Winston Winters (frequently called “Win”) is a ten year old boy who is forced to spend his summer at his grandparent’s place with his older brother, Keith. Things occur during this part that makes us, the readers, see why Win would react and deal with it the way he did later on in the story. In the present, Win is a sixteen year old at a boarding school in Vermont, hiding secrets of his past. He’s a loner, choosing to avoid any socialization with his fellow classmates, but despite that, he attracts the attention of a new transfer student, Jordan Herrera and his former roommate, Lex Emil, Win’s former roommate, who both show concern for Win’s well-being. In both parts, Win struggles with thoughts of “badness” (of violence and of shame) that threaten to take him over at times.
This book is incredibly misleading and frustrating, in a good way though. I didn’t know what to expect since the narrative is framed in a way that doesn’t reveal too much of Win’s secrets. I didn’t know what was going on half the time, but by the end, everything hit me like a ton of bricks. (Only one word was left in my mind when I finished it: “Shhhiiiiiiiiittttttt.”) It left me reeling and pondering over Win and how powerful the human mind is.
Stephanie Kuehn did a wonderful job at keeping the suspense and portraying sensitive issues (she uses an interesting metaphor for Win’s plight). You can say that this story is a character study on the human mind and how it copes with tragedy/trauma/loss. A child’s mind can only take so much before it eventually shuts down and represses everything or masks it into something they can understand. When you start reading, you can’t help this overwhelming sadness come over you. You just know that something bad has happened, but you don’t know what. You just keep turning the pages.
Just know that this book is not light nor is it paranormal. It deals with sensitive issues (like abuse, suicide, incest).
If I had to describe Charm & Strange in a sentence to convince you to read it…I’d say, it’s “a truly confusing, strange, yet poignant and heartbreaking book, where you don’t know what’s going on with the protagonist, but as the story continues to build, it sucks you in because it’s a big mindfuck, and you question your own sanity for staying up until five in the morning trying to finish this book.” I know I’m keeping it extremely vague, but you should go read it. Experience it yourself. Just prepare yourself…just a bit.