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Aeicha @ Word Spelunking

Monday, June 10, 2013

Charm & Strange Blog Tour {Review, Guest Post, Giveaway}

I'm so excited to have the Charm & Strange Blog Tour stopping by today! Below you will find my review, a guest post from author Stephanie Kuehn, and a tour wide giveaway...

Charm & Strange
by Stephanie Kuehn
St. Martin's Griffin
Purchase: Amazon

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. 

(I received a galley of this book in exchange for an honest review)

I'm going to start this review off by stating that it is SPOILER FREE! This is the type of book that it would be completely unfair and mean to spoil the twists and turns for other readers. Before reading it, I had only read the smartly vague blurb and didn't read any reviews, and I'm so glad I didn't. Honestly, I wouldn't be offended if you wanted to skip my review and simply went and READ the book, then came back, read my review and discussed the book with me...but, if you do read any reviews pre-reading the actual book, try to go for the spoiler-free, kinda vague ones (like this one!)...

Stephanie Kuehn's debut novel Charm & Strange is just that, unexpectedly charming and exquisitely strange. This book was nothing I expected it to be, yet everything I didn't even know I wanted it to be. Breathtaking, profound, beautifully and smartly woven, Charm & Strange is all these things and more. Stephanie Kuehn is a fantastic storyteller and she tells one hell of a story; a story with an unforgettable main character and an emotional heart-punch that you'll feel for days.

I think the rather vague blurb will have different readers going into this book with different expectations, and that's ok. Approach this book with whatever expectations you have, or better yet, bring no expectations at all. Either way, this book is bound to surprise, shock, and challenge readers (it did me!). Told in alternating chapters that switch from the present to the past, this story was, I admit, a bit confusing at first and it took some adjusting to become attuned to its flow. But, I came to realize that this jarring effect is completely necessary to the story and so deftly created, and the story itself is so compelling and just so impossible to walk away from, that any confusion or stumbling was soon forgotten. And this present to past, past to present structure allows the story to unfold in the most perfect way. Every secret, every realization, every twist is revealed exactly when and how it should be.

Win/Drew, Charm & Strange's main character and narrator, is one of the most complex, captivating, and best developed characters I've met in a long time. There's such depth and realness to him. He isn't always easy to like or trust and he's flawed and broken in the most natural and twisted and aching ways, and I wanted nothing more than to magic him out of the pages into this world and just hold him and take care of him. He is truly an unforgettable character that will stay with me forever.

Obviously, I can't discuss specific plot points or events, but just know that Kuehn is so friggin' awesome when it comes to the art of smart subtlety and breathtaking world-building (emotional, psychological, and mental world-building, as well as the physical). The different aspects of this multifaceted story that are explored are done so in such poignant and thought-provoking ways. There's such authenticity and beauty (both dark and bright) to every broken heart, every pain, every perceived truth; every wished for truth; and every all-consuming truth in this book.

As with the rest of Charm & Strange, it ends in exactly the way it should...that's not to say that the ending didn't leave me a crying, overloaded with feels mess, because it totally did...but, I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS: This phenomenally written story punched me in the heart, captivated me completely, and left me so thoughtful, but I don't think it will every truly leave me. Stephanie Kuehn is a superb new writing talent and has definitely gained a life-long fan in me. Charm & Strange is a must read book that demands and deserves go read it and come discuss it with me!


On What to Name and What Not to Name
by Stephanie Kuehn

Two things that I find absolutely fascinating are language and psychology. The language part is easy to understand. Growing up with a journalist-editor-author father, I spent my childhood in the presence of people who loved words and wordplay and making sure they always, always said what they meant.

The psychology part came later, during my teenage years, when I was filled with thoughts and emotions that were wild and weird and made me feel as if no one else perceived things the way that I did. I guess it actually came a long time after that—when I was older and could reflect on those experiences. That’s when I found a calling in wanting to help others navigate their own questions regarding self and others and the world we live in.

When I sat down to write Charm & Strange, I knew I wanted to attend very closely to the use of language and psychology in the story (okay, I know, what writer doesn’t closely attend to language?), but I also wanted to be cognizant of how reductive both are—especially when it comes to giving a name to something.

When something is named, we have this very human tendency to want to categorize it as being like something else. When we say “so and so is depressed,” then that person is fit into a box of “what depressed people are like.” This is good in certain ways: naming things gives us a way to share experiences and understand them. From a psychological perspective, having names for things give mental health professionals a way to knowledgeably guide treatment options.

However, when something is named, it is also distanced from whatever it is that makes it unique. It becomes less like what it is and gets perceived as more like what it’s like. So if I say my day was “good,” then it ends up getting categorized as being like anyone else’s “good day,” and it loses whatever it is that made it good to me. As writers, of course, we get to choose how to describe things, but we’re still using the medium of language to communicate and that medium is still necessarily reductive.  

I made choices in the writing of Charm & Strange in what to name and what not to name. Some things are obvious: the boarding school where the story is set isn’t named. Neither is the Vermont town where it’s located. Other things are left unnamed, too. This is because I wanted to minimize the desire to categorize these events or places or experiences as being like other things. To the extent that I could, I wanted them to be perceived simply as what they are—nothing more, nothing less.

Stephanie Kuehn
Stephanie Kuehn is a YA writer who grew up in Berkeley, California, which is a quirky sort of a place with a ton of wonderful bookstores. Her very first job was working in one of those bookstores, and she's been a freakishly avid reader for as long as she can remember. 
Stephanie's other passions include mental health advocacy, social justice, and sports of all kinds. She's currently living in Northern California with her family and their wild menagerie of pets.
Win a finished copy of Charm & Strange!
This is a blog tour wide giveaway that is US only. You can enter below or at any tour stop.


Shane @ItchingforBooks said...

Wonderful review. Awesome guest post! Thanks for participating :)

Unknown said...

This book was nothing I expected it to be, yet everything I didn't even know I wanted it to be.

LOVE IT. Aiecha, you've summed up most all my thoughts on C&S in this review. I am just so glad you enjoyed it. I agree, everyone should go in with little expectations so they will be blown away.

What a neat post from Stephanie. It - the naming vs not naming - didn't really occur to me while I was reading, but afterward I realized it gave it that timeless, frozen punchy feel.

Molli | Once Upon a Prologue

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