Something is going on with my reading this year, I seem to be swinging back and forth between 5-star books and 2-star ones, which means I should have anticipated trouble with Charm and Strange based purely on it falling in my reading order behind Boyfriend Material. This one didn’t make me angry as some of my other two star reads, Always, in December and Seduction, but it flirted with the line.
This 2014 Winner of the William C. Morris Award is designed to be read blind – you aren’t supposed to know more than a very basic description, that it’s the story of a boy who believes that he is a monster and it’s about understanding why. But if you are expecting a straightforward fantasy this isn’t it. This is much more a meditation on the psychology of trauma and how the placement of the “bad” descriptor on a child can destroy their self-perception. For that reason, its both difficult to provide an adequate content warning without spoiling the denouement of the story, but it feels entirely necessary to give one to prepare the reader for what they will encounter within.
This story is primarily in the mind of its protagonist, as he swings back and forth between the now of his time at a Vermont boarding school and the summer he was 10 years old. Normally I am all about a character study, which this falls firmly into, but Charm and Strange felt claustrophobic because the character we are studying, and whose thoughts we are sharing, is so profoundly depressed and isolated, and has suffered such immense harm at the hands of others.
CW: child abuse, sexual abuse, depression, disordered eating, suicide, self-harm.