Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe (Book Review)

Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Page Count
: 336

I have said it before and I will say it again, there’s something about Ben Philippe’s writing that just works for me. I was utterly smitten with The Field Guide to the North American Teenager and extremely pumped to read Charming as a Verb. From the first couple of pages, you just sort of get the characters and their personality. They come to life easily and grow on you quickly.

All children are charming as an adjective, but you’re charming as a verb. 

Henri “Halti” Haltiwanger is, in all possible meanings of the word, charming. He has a Smile (yes, capital S) for every situation and knows how to navigate people like the back of his hand. In addition to that, he is also extremely smart and funny and handsome – a combination that makes him likable in every social circle he encounters, despite some massive income differences between him and his other classmates. And while you read, you get it! Henri is a go-getter and not beyond a little con here and there to get to the places he needs to go. He just knows exactly what to say and makes his flaws look endearing, so, it comes as little surprise when Corinne, the social opposite of him, blackmails him into helping her get a social life. A meet cute started by blackmail, not something you see every day!

“You want me to She’s All That you?” I manage to say, hiding the smile creeping on my lips.
“What’s that?”
“Oh, my God,” I groan. “Watch more movies. Maybe that’s been the missing ingredient all along.”

From there on, things evolve quickly and you have a sort of rivals to friends to lovers situation. Corinne and Henri are incredibly cute together and will have you smiling like crazy with their banter and endearing get-to-know phase. However, this book isn’t just a romance. It’s about so much more!

A much bigger component, and the source of many a problem, is the fact that Corinne, Henri and their friends are in their senior year at High School. Being at a very competitive private school is one thing, but Henri simultaneously has to keep his dog-walking-business running, help out at home and fulfill his dad’s dream of getting into Columbia. And that’s the source of one of the main issues!

Despite our both being the O-Generation – a concept I have to admit rings terribly true the more I think about it – Corinne isn’t an immigrant. Or the child of immigrants. It’s a distinction that’s mostly irrelevant except in the moments like these, where it could easily place us on two different wavelengths. There’s no Haitian in her, no Jamaican, no Puerto Rican. Her Blackness is American, born and raised. Stolen and enslaved, technically, but still, it’s rooted here. She never aspired to be here from another shore elsewhere. She might not understand.
“If I give up on Columbia, then … I don’t know.”
“Then it’s like you’re no longer Haltiwanger Hungry?”
“Something like that.”

So, Henri has to figure out why he wants to go to Columbia and how far he is willing to go to get there. I call it the main issue, because it leads to Henri doing something that just made me so irrefutably angry. Maybe it’s not fair for me to hold Henri to such a high standard, but I truly expected better from him and that just made me so disappointed in his actions.
Then again, that’s another sign of great writing! I was so invested in the life of the characters, I wanted them to do better. I wanted everyone to succeed and live their dreams. And I don’t even speak of just Corinne and Henri here, who were so lovable, but also side characters like Henri’s best friend Ming. That dude was exactly the kind of friend I wish everyone had!

To recap, Ben Philippe’s writing style is still something that I enjoy very much. He manages to not feel the need to detail every second of every day the characters live through and yet you always feel like you have the full picture. His characters are full of life, relatable and fun. I didn’t enjoy the conflict in this one as much as in The Field Guide … but I still thought it had amazing parts focusing on the family-theme and very cute romance moments!

Fazit: 3/5 stars! I really wish Halti hadn’t done that one thing …

3s

Are you planning on reading Charming as a Verb? Have you read Philippe’s other book? Let’s talk!

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe (Book Review)

Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Page Count
: 384

I know it’s a silly point to start with, but I love the cover of this book! I love the colors, I love the illustration, I even love the extremely long title and the perfect placement of it. Most of all, I love that, now that I have read the book, I can tell you exactly who is who on that cover and it fits them to the t. Having said all that, my gushing shall continue about the contents of The Field Guide to the North American Teenager, because this book was so much fun!

When I was 15 years old, I did an exchange semester in the US. Even to this date, with many a different experience abroad, it is one of the most memorable times of my life. I don’t know why, but for a second I thought this book was about a French-Canadian exchange student (that did happen at my US high school, so it’s not that weird of a concept), but no, Norris’ mum plans to move her son to Texas permanently. In hindsight, that makes so much more sense! Because why else would he absolutely hate the idea of being there, since he would have never if he had chosen to go himself. Nevertheless, most things Norris knew about American high schools, he knew from TV shows (just like myself) and he wasn’t surprised to find a lot of these things actually being true, while then realising that there’s always more to people than what you can see at first glance.

I thought this book was a fresh take on usual high school stories. I especially appreciated how the end wasn’t an end at all, while it still left you at a very satisfactory place. Norris, while being very judgmental to the point that it can get annoying sometimes, is a really funny character. I found myself laughing out loud several times. That’s not to say that there aren’t also deep and personal issues discussed. There’s moving to another country, getting raised by one parent and getting neglected by another, the expectation for children of immigrants to succeed, living with mental health issues, being black in America, selflessness and selfishness and to what degree we need to act upon them. Those weren’t even all topics mentioned, but somehow they were all included in effortless ways that made sense for both the story and character. Really, every character has their own story to tell and layers to uncover. I can always appreciate that! 

Lastly, the only reason that this isn’t a 5-star-read is that I found myself incredibly frustrated with the romantic storyline. Norris early on crushes on someone he himself calls a “manic pixie dream girl”, which should already tell you that she is not who he is meant to be with. Yet, he keeps pining after her even though she is downright mean to him sometimes and stringing him along in the most obvious ways, even when there is the kindest and sweetest girl right in front of him! I know it’s part of the drama and obviously was also needed for the big blow-up in the last act of the story, but I wouldn’t have minded if none of that ever happened. It was quite nice to just have a mostly happy story trickling along, with hick ups along the way, but just people who dealt with it rather than had a massive drama.

Fazit: 4/5 stars! A fun and quick read about a very teen experience.

Have you read this book? Do you want to? Let’s talk about it.