Charm & Strange is a funny little book, and by funny I mean sly and dry and twisted up into all sorts of uncomfortable and nebulous corners of our narrator’s consciousness. I’ve not read a lot of young adult fiction lately, let alone new releases, yet I feel confident in saying that Kuehn’s debut stands apart in the pack. Those who read a quick blurb or glance at the cover will undoubtedly come into this novel with certain expectations, and I’m loathe to spoil anything for those readers. Usually I am the queen of spoilers; I rarely start a book unless I’ve already read the last page and been comforted by the conclusion I glimpse there. Yet I accepted Charm & Strange for review somewhat spontaneously, despite the fact that I don’t have time to give it a thorough review.
But for once, that’s probably for the best, as going into any great detail on thisbook would only ruin the experience for those who have yet to read it. Charm & Strange doesn’t read like most of the young adult fiction on shelves nowadays, and honestly, I believe it (like many of its peers) could easily make the jump to adult fiction were it not for certain readers’ and reviewers’ hangups on teenage protagonists delivering anything but age-appropriate stories. Kuehn’s writing felt at times like Meg Rosoff’s, at others like a young Melina Marchetta. It wasn’t necessarily an enjoyable read, but it was a good one, and one that I feel is important for the genre right now, especially given the propensity for many to dismiss young adult completely based on certain traits (vapid love-triangles, unnecessarily drawing out self-contained stories into series, self-insert new adult) that are becoming increasingly more prevalent.
Kuehn doesn’t deliver a protagonist who is easy to identify, or identify with. I didn’t relate to Win, but I believed his struggle (even as I suspected there was an unreliable narrator in my presence). The secondary characters could have been more fleshed out, maybe should have been, but part of me feels as if that would have undermined another crucial element of Kuehn’s narrative. I felt removed from Win’s story in a way that would usually make me drop a book within the first few chapters, but here if felt integral. I hope readers persevere as I did; the payoff was quiet and a bit bleak, but made the journey worth it.