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.
Right off the bat, I was sucked into this one. The way it’s written reminds me of 17 & Gone, which is a great thing since I loved the latter novel so very much. I’m not sure what to call Drew/Win, because each chapter alternates between his two selves, so I’m going to go with DW. I didn’t like Drew/Win every much at the beginning. His father sounded terrible, and it’s clear early on that Drew grew up in an abusive environment of some sort. So he’s abrasive in personality, but I felt for him because of his past. He grew up kind of sickly and introverted, angry at everyone and everything. I also sensed that DW was going to be a bit of an unreliable narrator, just like Lauren from 17 & Gone, and we all know how much I like that. The mystery starts off right away, though the details are revealed slowly. Charm & Strange is another one of those books that sounds like it’s paranormal, but might be something else entirely. You just aren’t sure at first. DW is prone to fits of anger and violence, something we find out he inherited from his father, but circumstances lead DW to believe he is a werewolf. There’s also a kind of creepy incestual thing happening involving his brother and a female cousin, and later, DW and a female cousin. I wasn’t sure what to think about it, honestly.
Eventually you realize that two tales are being woven. The first is the story of Win in boarding school, the second is the story of Drew and the “unthinkable.” As I mentioned before, because Drew is an unreliable narrator, you spend the whole book wondering what’s true and what’s not. I read so closely for the whole book because I didn’t want to miss any clues. Plus hearing the story of DW’s family was really intriguing. And it’s woven in a really great way, where you really feel like you’re inside DW’s head. You can feel how out of control he is. DW isn’t the most likable dude in the room, even on his best day, so sometimes I was annoyed with him while still being unable to put the book down. And when you discover what the “unthinkable” is, it’s devastating. And the reason is worse. I’ll post the specific trigger warning under a cut at the end of the post.
For all the sorrow this novel holds in its pages, it’s also got humor. The pop culture references were subtle, in my opinion, but I really liked it when I recognized one. Especially this one: “Fucking girls, how do they work?” Oh how I laughed. Thank you, Lex Emil and Stephanie Kuehn for that moment.
This book is like 261 pages long. You could read it in a day. And you should. You should go and buy it and read it right now. It’s harder to write a review for a novel you love than a novel you hate, isn’t it? I’m going to pick this one up in hardcover right away, and you should too.
Trigger warning for child sexual abuse and incest.