Word Spelunking

Charm & Strange - Stephanie Kuehn I'm going to start this review off by stating that it is SPOILER FREE! This is the type of book that it would be completely unfair and mean to spoil the twists and turns for other readers. Before reading it, I had only read the smartly vague blurb and didn't read any reviews, and I'm so glad I didn't. Honestly, I wouldn't be offended if you wanted to skip my review and simply went and READ the book, then came back, read my review and discussed the book with me...but, if you do read any reviews pre-reading the actual book, try to go for the spoiler-free, kinda vague ones (like this one!)...Stephanie Kuehn's debut novel Charm & Strange is just that, unexpectedly charming and exquisitely strange. This book was nothing I expected it to be, yet everything I didn't even know I wanted it to be. Breathtaking, profound, beautifully and smartly woven, Charm & Strange is all these things and more. Stephanie Kuehn is a fantastic storyteller and she tells one hell of a story; a story with an unforgettable main character and an emotional heart-punch that you'll feel for days.I think the rather vague blurb will have different readers going into this book with different expectations, and that's ok. Approach this book with whatever expectations you have, or better yet, bring no expectations at all. Either way, this book is bound to surprise, shock, and challenge readers (it did me!). Told in alternating chapters that switch from the present to the past, this story was, I admit, a bit confusing at first and it took some adjusting to become attuned to its flow. But, I came to realize that this jarring effect is completely necessary to the story and so deftly created, and the story itself is so compelling and just so impossible to walk away from, that any confusion or stumbling was soon forgotten. And this present to past, past to present structure allows the story to unfold in the most perfect way. Every secret, every realization, every twist is revealed exactly when and how it should be.Win/Drew, Charm & Strange's main character and narrator, is one of the most complex, captivating, and best developed characters I've met in a long time. There's such depth and realness to him. He isn't always easy to like or trust and he's flawed and broken in the most natural and twisted and aching ways, and I wanted nothing more than to magic him out of the pages into this world and just hold him and take care of him. He is truly an unforgettable character that will stay with me forever.Obviously, I can't discuss specific plot points or events, but just know that Kuehn is so friggin' awesome when it comes to the art of smart subtlety and breathtaking world-building (emotional, psychological, and mental world-building, as well as the physical). The different aspects of this multifaceted story that are explored are done so in such poignant and thought-provoking ways. There's such authenticity and beauty (both dark and bright) to every broken heart, every pain, every perceived truth; every wished for truth; and every all-consuming truth in this book.As with the rest of Charm & Strange, it ends in exactly the way it should...that's not to say that the ending didn't leave me a crying, overloaded with feels mess, because it totally did...but, I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.MY FINAL THOUGHTS: This phenomenally written story punched me in the heart, captivated me completely, and left me so thoughtful, but I don't think it will every truly leave me. Stephanie Kuehn is a superb new writing talent and has definitely gained a life-long fan in me. Charm & Strange is a must read book that demands and deserves discussion...so go read it and come discuss it with me!

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