Charm & Strange VS The Dream Thieves: the inner lives of boarding school boys

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The two challengers that I was up against were The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater and Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn.

The Dream Thieves is the second book in Stiefvater’s Raven cycle. It follows the continuing adventures of Blue, who has joined up with a cohort of private school boys in order to revive a long dead Welsh king who they believe is buried in Virginia. This work delves deeper into the backstory of the violent and mercurial Ronan, and also introduces us to the mysterious Grey Man.

Stiefvater’s characters are always witty and fun to read, the various relationships are lovingly built up, and the last five chapters of The Dream Thieves had my eyes glued to its pages, but the beginning of the book was so odd and disjointed, that I had a less than immersive reading experience (it took me far too long to finish).

Full disclosure: the book may have also been put at a disadvantage in this challenge because I had not read the first novel in the series and reading the two back to back was jarring. After the adrenalin laced magic and wonder of the end of The Raven Boys my attachment to the characters was diminished by Stiefvater’s return to her first love, character development. The endings of both of Stiefvater’s books are spectacular, so much so that I am almost able to forgive each books’ interminable beginning… but not quite enough to let it win this round.

Charm & Strange is a wonderful book, but also problematic to review. I actually have a great deal to say about the work, but it is one of those books where the impact will be diminished if too much is revealed in advance. For librarians, however, I will caution that the cover image and intentionally vague synopsis may lead you to inaccurately categorize the work and I would warn against recommending this book to teens until after you have read it (and I personally will stick with pitching it to older teen/adult audiences).

This brilliant first work delves deeply in to one young man’s story, told in alternating chapters. Present day Win is living at a boarding school in Vermont, exerting control anyway he can, mostly by isolating himself and starving his body. In contrast we also get a series of flashbacks that show the same character as a young boy, Drew, lashing out in rage at himself and everyone around him. The more you learn about his past and present the more you want to immerse yourself into his life, and Kuehn masterfully builds the pace in both time frames to a heart shattering climax (that may or may not have left me in tears). She never loses focus and never backs off, which makes for an extremely intense reading experience.

Both of these books have strong and compelling endings and each author graced their characters with rich and complicated lives, but the clear winner for me was Charm & Strange for doing such a wonderful job of exploring deeply disturbing real world issues in a unique way.

Winner: Charm & Strange

charm and strange


Young Adult Action/Adventure Booklist

Remote Control

Heath, Jack.

In the sequel to The Lab, teenage agent Six of Hearts is suspected of being a double agent, which has him on the run from his fellow agents at the Deck while also trying to track down his brother’s kidnappers.

A Conspiracy of Kings

Turner, Megan Whelan.

In this historical fiction/Adventure story Sophos, an unwilling prince, is kidnapped and sold into slavery while trying to save his country from being destroyed by rebellion and exploited by the conniving Mede Empire.


Ship Breaker

Bacigalupi, Paolo.

In a futuristic world, Nailer scavenges copper wiring from grounded oil tankers for a living, but when he finds a beached clipper ship with a girl in the wreckage, he has to decide if he should strip the ship for its wealth or rescue the girl.


Smells Like Dog

Selfors, Suzanne.

When Homer’s explorer-uncle dies he leaves him a droopy dog with a mysterious coin hidden on its collar, it leads him to The City, where they meet Madame, head of the Museum of Natural History, who is trying to steal the coin and take Homer’s place in a secret society of adventurers.


As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth

Perkins, Lynne Rae.

Journeying by train to summer camp only to find that the camp program has been cancelled, Ry finds himself stranded without resources in the wilderness and invents a new definition of summer vacation.


The Grimm Legacy

Shulman, Polly.

After high school student Elizabeth, working as a page, gains access to the Grimm Collection of magical objects, she and the other pages are drawn into a series of frightening adventures involving mythical creatures and stolen goods.


Young Smaurai: The Way of the Warrior

Bradford, Chris.

After he is orphaned by a ninja pirate attack off the coast of Japan in 1611, English lad Jack Fletcher is determined to prove himself when the legendary sword master who rescued him begins training him as a samurai warrior.


Jake Ransom and the Skull King’s Shadow

Rollins, James.

Middle-schooler Jake and his sister Kady are transported by a Mayan artifact to a strange world inhabited by a mix of people from long-lost civilizations who are threatened by prehistoric creatures and an evil alchemist, the Skull King.

So YA Like…the Alex Rider Series

If you have teens that are crazy for the Alex Rider series and are killing time before the next one comes out in November 2009 check out these titles.  These books are character driven mysteries and adventure stories.  They geared towards boys but can appeal to any action and thriller fans.

accelerationAcceleration Graham McNamee

Stuck working in the Lost and Found in the bowels of the Toronto Transit Authority for the summer, seventeen-year-old Duncan finds the diary of a serial killer. He follows the clues in the diary that lead him to two victims.  Duncan must find a way to watch both girls while managing to keep his job.

Blade: Playing Dead Tim Bowler

A fourteen-year-old British street person with extraordinary powers of observation and self-control must face murderous thugs connected with a past he has tried to forget, when his skills with a knife earned him the nickname, Blade.

Death and the Arrow Chris Priestley

After his friend Will, a pickpocket in London in 1715, is murdered as part of a series of mysterious deaths, fifteen-year-old Tom Marlowe asks his friend Dr. Harker to help find the killer.  This is the first in the Tom Marlowe Adventure trilogy.

Down the Rabbit Hole: an Echo Falls Mystery Peter Abrahamsdowntherabbithole

Like her idol Sherlock Holmes, eighth grader Ingrid Levin-Hill uses her intellect to solve a murder case in her home town of Echo Falls.  This is the first in the Echo Falls Mystery series.

First Boy Gary Schmidt

Dragged into the political turmoil of a presidential election year, fourteen-year-old Cooper Jewett, who runs a New Hampshire dairy farm since his grandfather’s death, stands up for himself and makes it clear whose first boy he really is.

Payback Andy McNab

As teenage suicide bombers terrorize England, seventeen-year-old Danny tries to help his grandfather, an ex-SAS explosives expert falsely accused of being a traitorous spy by the government’s intelligence agencies.

rashRash Pete Hautman

In a future society that has decided it would “rather be safe than free,” sixteen-year-old Bo’s anger control problems land him in a tundra jail where he survives with the help of his running skills and an artificial intelligence program named Bork.

Raven’s Gate Anthony Horowitz

Sent to live in a foster home in a remote Yorkshire village, Matt, a troubled fourteen-year-old English boy, uncovers an evil plot involving witchcraft and the site of an ancient stone circle.  This is the first volume in the Gatekeeper’s series.

SilverFin : a James Bond Adventure Charles Higsonsilverfin

Young James Bond, while attending boarding school at Eton in the 1930s, must battle against an insane arms dealer who, by using killer eels, is attempting to create a race of indestructible soldiers on the eve of World War II.  There are four books in Young James Bond series

The Recruit Robert Muchamore

James is recruited into CHERUB, a secret division of MI5 which consists of teenage spies. He successfully completes his training and goes on his first mission.  There are seven books in the CHERUB series.

The Road of the Dead Kevin Brooks

Two brothers, sons of an incarcerated gypsy, leave London and travel to an isolated and desolate village, in search of the brutal killer of their sister.

supernaturalistThe Supernaturalist Eoin Colfer

In futuristic Satellite City, fourteen-year-old Cosmo Hill escapes from his abusive orphanage and teams up with three other people who share his unusual ability to see supernatural creatures, and together they determine the nature and purpose of the swarming blue Parasites that are invisible to most humans.