When I started this book I wasn’t sure how long I would continue reading. A teenage guy with a lot of swagger talking about “the hustle” and “the hunger” for making it – not really what I’m into. However, Ben Philippe’s charming novel and character are not what they seem on the surface – that’s the whole point of this enjoyable read.
Charming as a Verb is about first-generation Haitian-American Henry Haltiwanger. He lives on the Upper West side of NYC where his dad is the building super and his mom is a firefighter. His family isn’t wealthy by any means, but he attends a prestigious private school called the FATE Academy and he has his sights set on Columbia University.
Henry’s family isn’t rich by any means, and as the cover indicates Henry helps add to the family purse by walking dogs on behalf on one of those dog-walking company apps. One of the dogs he walks belongs to the family of the very “intense” Corinne Troy. The Troys live in the same building as the Haltiwangers, and Corinne goes to the FATE Academy with Henry. However, they run in different circles, to say the least. Henry is handsome, popular, and “charming as a verb.” Corinne is something of a tightly-wound loner. She doesn’t really have a place.
However, through a twist of fate Corinne discovers a (not very dark) secret that Henry doesn’t want coming out. She blackmails him and pulls a kind of reverse-10-Things-I-Hate About You – she won’t tell the secret if Henry helps her to develop a social life.
It sounds like a typical YA rom-com book on the surface, but the book is much more about what it’s like to be a Black teenager and professional trying to make it in a world where one’s presence isn’t exactly welcomed. The book uses the term O Generation, meaning exception like Oprah or Obama. I wasn’t familiar with the term until reading the book, but author Ben Philippe does a great job of helping the reader that Black teens must feel to be exceptional just to fit in, as well as the unique pressure and worldviews of first-gen Americans.
I’d recommend this book to anyone. (Just a quick heads up that there’s some swearing if you listen to the audiobook with your kids.)
Many thanks to Libro.fm and the publisher for providing me with a free audiobook listening copy of this novel because I’m an educator.