Charm & Strange
By Stephanie Kuehn
Published 2013 by St. Martin's Griffin
There is a battle raging within Andrew Winston Winters - between Win, the lonely teen at a Vermont boarding school, and Drew, the violent boy with a monstrous secret. But the battle has raged for so long and now it's drawing to a close. Which boy will be the victor?
This book caught my eye last year as it was thrown around as a potential 2014 Youth Media Award winner. I kept meaning to get around to it last year and never quite made it. At the end of last year, it was named a finalist for the Morris Award, given to an outstanding debut novel. So, I moved it up my reading pile and snagged it just before my Year of No Library Books began.
As is typical of me and my inability to remain current with reviews, I didn't get around to reviewing it before it actually won the Morris Award. Maybe it's a good thing, though; I find myself thinking of the book more positively now than when I first finished reading it.
At the time I completed it, I'd read only one other Morris Award finalist, Sex & Violence (last year was an ampersand year for YA, in case you couldn't tell). While I wasn't completely over the moon with that book, I was impressed by it and wasn't surprised to see it named as a finalist. This left me very intrigued by the titles it was up against. This book was the first of the others I got my hands on.
When I first finished reading, I was a bit miffed at the way Kuehn had chosen to tell one of the major aspects of the story. I'm not sure how much I can really say without getting into spoilers, but Win believes that he is cursed in a particular way. He believes that this is the cause of his anguish and that it runs in his family and that he is powerless to stop it. What Win believes felt too false for me, particularly within the context of the novel. However, the further away I get from this book, the less this bothers me. The more I think about the book, the more impressed I am with the story Kuehn told and the way she executed it. It's a big punch in the gut when everything is finally revealed and it makes the reader rethink everything they've read. This is a book that would probably benefit from back to back readings - I imagine one would discover things they missed after they know the book's ending.
The more I think about this book, the happier I am that it won the Morris Award. I haven't reviewed the other titles yet, but I think this was definitely an excellent choice as the winner.