From the Morris-Award winning author of Charm & Strange, comes a twisted and haunting tale about three teens uncovering dark secrets and even darker truths about themselves.
When nearly killing a classmate gets seventeen-year-old Sadie Su kicked out of her third boarding school in four years, she returns to her family’s California vineyard estate. Here, she’s meant to stay out of trouble. Here, she’s meant to do a lot of things. But it’s hard. She’s bored. And when Sadie’s bored, the only thing she likes is trouble.
Emerson Tate’s a poor boy living in a rich town, with his widowed mother and strange, haunted little brother. All he wants his senior year is to play basketball and make something happen with the girl of his dreams. That’s why Emerson’s not happy Sadie’s back. An old childhood friend, she knows his worst secrets. The things he longs to forget. The things she won’t ever let him.
Haunted is a good word for fifteen-year-old Miles Tate. Miles can see the future, after all. And he knows his vision of tragic violence at his school will come true, because his visions always do. That’s what he tells the new girl in town. The one who listens to him. The one who recognizes the darkness in his past.
But can Miles stop the violence? Or has the future already been written? Maybe tragedy is his destiny. Maybe it’s all of theirs. – Goodreads
Charm & Strange was one of my favorite books the year it came out. I love a good YA novel about troubled teens, especially if it includes an unreliable narrator. This book centers on three characters, Sadie, Emerson, and Miles. Sadie sounds like a bit of a sociopath, someone who hurts others because she’s bored, who gets off on making people uncomfortable, who knows just how much to say or not say. She’s a rich kid with a past, a missing father, a penchant for being kicked out of boarding schools, things like that. Emerson and his brother Miles are different. They live on the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak, though Emerson has now joined the rich kids in the cool crowd due to playing basketball. Their father killed himself when they were younger, so there’s some leftover baggage from that. Miles, though, is truly different, in that he is constantly sick and believes he is having visions. These visions appear to often be accompanied by a panic attack or a seizure. Miles sees violence in his future, but is having trouble seeing it clearly. They are all connected, both by their past and their present, and you can see the disaster coming from a mile away.
Each of these kids are disconnected in some way, though Sadie is perhaps the worst. She has no real feelings other than boredom and the joy she feels when she is in control, hurting others, or getting what she wants. I’m sure there’s a reason Kuehn chose to name her protagonist something similar to “sadist.” She is hard to rile, very slow to anger, and she sees no point in most of the baser emotions that rule the lives of the average teenager. She enjoys trying to manipulate and shock her school therapist, she uses information to blackmail and control other students, and she is, in her heart and at her base, cruel. She is the kind of person who believes people are born as they are and nothing can change them, even if they are born “bad.” Sadie is the worst kind of apathetic, and we slowly discover her roots and her experiences, which only sort of explain why she is the way she is. Emerson, on the other hand, seems to be all base emotion, all pride, lust, and anger. He is afraid of Sadie and also drawn to her, running from a past full of hate and pain, and yet also seeming to want to jump back into it. Emerson does things differently than Sadie, but they’re still terrible. In fact, I liked him even less than Sadie, even though it seemed like Sadie was being set up as the villain. Miles is a bit of an enigma. He doesn’t do terrible things, isn’t a ball of anger or indifference, but he is in pain and his past is sort of shrouded in mystery. Something is there, something has happened, but we don’t know what it is. At first, I wasn’t sure Miles himself knew what it was.
This book is a heartbreak. There’s really nothing happy or fulfilling about it, but that doesn’t make it a bad read. Just a hard one, one you have to brace yourself for, even if you see it coming.