8 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

Title: Charm and Strange

Author: Stephanie Kuehn

Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Young Adult

Publisher: Electric Monkey (UK) / St Martin’s Griffin
Publication Date: June 2013
Hardcover: 259 Pages

Charm and Strange Charm and Strange

No one really knows who Andrew Winston Winters is. Least of all himself. He is part Win, a lonely teenager exiled to a remote boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy. The guy who shuts the whole world out, no matter the cost, because his darkest fear is of himself …of the wolfish predator within.

But he’s also part Drew, the angry boy with violent impulses that control him. The boy who, one fateful summer, was part of something so terrible it came close to destroying him. A deftly woven, elegant, unnerving psychological thriller about a boy at war with himself. Charm and Strange is a masterful exploration of one of the greatest taboos.

Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel

How did I get this book: Bought

Format (e- or p-): eBook (Kindle)

Why did I read this book: I’ve seen good reviews around for this book but it was when I read this interview with the author that I decided to read it.


I am of the sea.
I am of instability.
I am of harsh, choppy waves roiling with all the up-ness, down-ness, top-ness, bottom-ness, contained within my being.
I am of charm and strange.

In the present, a 16-year-old boy named Win is exiled to a remote boarding school in the aftermath of a family tragedy. He shuts the world out and avoids friendships and connections because of his fear he will hurt someone one day. There is a wolf inside about to claw his way out and Win both welcomes and dreads what he sees as inevitable.

In the past, a 9-year-old boy named Drew is scared and so, so angry. Suffering severe motion sickness and constant stomach pains, there is something happening that only his older brother Keith can understand. Then summer comes along and with it a deadlock with terrible consequences.

Win is Drew and Drew is Win and their alternate stories unravel in a clash of matter and antimatter, of charm and strange, of lightness and mass in a constant stream that flows from Drew to Win.

It is so difficult to talk about Charm and Strange in any way – as reader or as a reviewer. Because it is such a powerful and gut-wrenching book that covers a difficult yet important subject. Because, as a reader, I was caught in its threads and even though I was able to deduce what was happening to Drew (and how that impacted Win), the ultimate Moment of Truth was still like being punched in the gut.

But also because of the book’s own structure and narrative method which brilliantly mimics the character’s psychological dissociation and torment (which is also a journey). Despite its blurb Charm and Strange is not in any way, a paranormal story (and I am sorry if this constitutes a spoiler although I don’t really think it does) because the important thing here is to try and understand why Win thinks he is going to turn into a wolf.

Because Charm and Strange is ultimately about the intertwined strands of silence and fight for survival that so often accompany cases like Win’s. And the silence is what almost broke me: because it cues from things you can’t explain to yourself, things that you don’t understand and doesn’t want to talk about when you are a little child because how. Can. You. But also the silence that comes from others, from those who turn a blind eye, and because of shame and underserved guilt.

I would be lying if I didn’t say that it kind of makes me uneasy to voice how brilliant the narrative is in the way that allows for the story to unravel between past and present because for it to work, it has to rely so much on the psychological torment of the main character. But the psychological issue of systems of meaning, of survival’s guilt, of deep-seated trauma ARE brilliantly explored here and are intrinsic parts of the story. It is in the way that Win has built himself to be a completely unlikeable person that tries to be apart from everybody (but who is always, almost against himself navigating toward connection with others). And even if he has built an unlikeable persona as a survival mechanism, he is still worth of compassion and sympathy and of attention. It is interesting how this reminded me in many ways of Justine Larbalestier’s Liar but also of Courtney Summer’s Cracked Up To Be in the way that all of these allow for their main characters to be difficult and flawed and still wholly worth of attention.

There is also a recurring a theme that affects both Keith and Win (and Drew to an extent) which is their own self-identification as monsters. It is not by accident that Drew goes by “Win” after all which is all the more heart-breaking.

I found it really striking how, much more than the present, it is the past that pulls the story, that has the meaning, the past that has the history. It is where everything happens and where the terrible seeds are sowed to create Win’s present. He is lucky to find the two friends he found in this story. And so, inasmuch as this is a heart-breaking story about things we wish didn’t happen, it is also a book about survival and healing and friendship and hope.

Notable Quotes/Parts:

I’ll admit those talks helped me, and when I read about the sea quarks, I understood why.
They contain particles of matter and antimatter, and where the two touch exists this constant stream of creation and annihilation. Scientists call this place ‘the sea’, and it’s what pitches inside of me as I hurry away from Mr Byles, ignoring his furrowed brow, his worried frown.
I am of the sea.
I am of instability.
I am of harsh, choppy waves roiling with all the up-ness, down-ness, top-ness, bottom-ness, contained within my being.
I am of charm and strange.

Rating: 8 – Excellent

Reading Next: The Perpetual Motion Club by Sue Lange

Buy the Book:

(click on the links to purchase)

Book Depository UK

Ebook available for kindle US, kindle UK, nook


  • Kate Karyus Quinn
    August 13, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    You have so perfectly summed up everything I felt about this powerful book, especially the Moment of Truth punch in the gut feeling, because YES that is exactly what it felt like. Normally I am not a fan of books that, erm, beat me up, but this one worked for me because it felt so honest, and completely earned that final reaction from me.

  • Courtney
    February 1, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    Your review, I feel, is acutely accurate to the point that it scares me because of how similar your thoughts on this novel were to my own. I went into Charm and Stange with no idea what I was going to read. At first, I also thought it was too vague to fully comprehend, but something kept urging me to read on and I am so glad I did. This novel was absolutely beautiful in every way, covering a tragic and dark topic that very few authors are able to put into words. I loved it and will be purchasing a copy.

  • Queen Mya
    November 17, 2016 at 11:21 am

    This book is a great book to read. It really speaks the truth in life. And I really liked how I can relate to this book in a very special way.

  • Anonymous
    September 12, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    add me on the snap @enriquecerasjr

  • Bob the Builder
    March 21, 2019 at 10:31 am

    What is the setting?

  • Bob the Builder
    March 21, 2019 at 10:32 am

    also tell how the book ended along with main problem or conflict the characters have to solve

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