Today’s Notes From My Library pairing is of Stephanie Kuehn’s debut novel, “Charm & Strange“, with Grey Wolf Cellars’ Zinful Cab.
I had the pleasure of meeting Keuhn at a Young Adult Writers Boot Camp in January that was hosted by the Bay Area chapter of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). We’re both members, however I attended this event as a student with much to learn from Kuehn and four other Young Adult authors. That day, Kuehn partnered with Veronica Rossi to give a presentation about how to create dynamic characters and dissonance between them. At the time Kuehn made it sound easy, and after reading this book I’ll admit that she certainly makes it look easy.
Winner of the 2014 William C. Morris Award, “Charm and Strange” is a story about a boy named Win, who is also named Drew. The story is told from Win/Drew’s perspective, and takes place at a remote Vermont boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy. Win/Drew immediately reveals that he has violent tendencies, and a secret in his past so monstrous that it may destroy him. Through Kuehn’s masterful storytelling, I was instantly drawn into the mystery surrounding Win/Drew, trying to figure out what happened to cause him to shut out the world and lock the truth – a wolf – deep inside himself. The story culminates at a party deep within the woods near the school, where over the course of one night Drew faces his greatest fear – himself – and realizes that choosing to live can mean so much more than not dying.
“I aced chemistry. I know how change comes about. Reactants are transformed into products when the matter involved undergoes an alteration of bonds.
But chemical reactions can take time, a lot of time if there isn’t a catalyst to speed things up.
It’s the moon. I need as much of it as possible. In every cell. Every molecule. Every atom. Every quark. I know that now. I can no longer stand in my own way. It’s who I am. It’s what I am. From kinky coils of my DNA to deeper still, I’m the product of the parts of me that matter and the parts I so wish didn’t.Nothing more.”
Throughout the story, Win/Drew tries desperately to free the wolf within, and for that reason I chose to pair this book with Grey Wolf Cellars’ Zinful Cab. Just as Win/Drew is forced to reconcile the two parts of himself – his past and his present – this wine brings together two grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel – that come from two different worlds. In the Bordeaux region of France, Cabernet Sauvignon would never blend with a grape like Zinfandel, but in Paso Robles, CA, the two grapes come together under one cork. Like Kuehn’s story, the result is beautifully rich and intense. This blend reveals sharp red fruit such as cranberries and cherries, with subtle undertones of deep minerals and earthiness. Upon opening, this wine may take a few minutes for its complex palate to unfold, but like Win/Drew, it is worth waiting for the truth to be revealed.