Charm & Strange (by Stephanie Kuehn)

23 03 2014
Charm & Strange @Handelsbeurs, Ghent

Charm & Strange @Handelsbeurs, Ghent

Charm & Strange is a strange little book and for the longest of time I just couldn’t decide whether the book was on the good side of strange or the bad side of strange, but then something just clicked and from then on out, Kuehn managed to convince me with her oddly haunting psychological story of a boy gone wild (or did he?).

This is definitely a book you want to go into completely unspoiled, so suffice it to say that the story flashes back between the boy Drew – who’s angry and young (10) and spends a summer with his cousins – and the boy Win – who’s 16 and almost irreparably alone at a boarding school. Something is going on with these boys (who, yes, are the same person), and Kuehn manages to hold out until the very end for the pieces of the puzzle to fall into place. By the time you have reached the end, the boundaries of psychological mystery have been explored and crossed, which is in large part due to Kuehn almost alienating prose.

Charme & Strange is Stephanie Kuehn’s debut novel and it’s not very surprising that a novel this ambitious in its execution was recognized with the William C. Morris Award. It’s an extremely brave (some would say frustrating) debut, which will instigate extreme reactions, I’m sure, but when a book stretches the possibilities of a genre the way Kuehn managed to do and does it successfully, keeping readers on the uncomfortable edge of their seat , then no amount of praise can ever be too high. Charm & Strange is a unique story. Highly recommended for brave readers!

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