Charming as a Verb
by Ben Philippe
eARC, 336 pages
Published September 8th by Balzer + Bray
From the award-winning author of The Field Guide to the North American Teenager comes a whip-smart and layered romantic comedy. Perfect for fans of Nicola Yoon and Jenny Han.
Henri “Halti” Haltiwanger can charm just about anyone. He is a star debater and popular student at the prestigious FATE academy, the dutiful first-generation Haitian son, and the trusted dog walker for his wealthy New York City neighbors. But his easy smiles mask a burning ambition to attend his dream college, Columbia University.
There is only one person who seems immune to Henri’s charms: his “intense” classmate and neighbor Corinne Troy. When she uncovers Henri’s less-than-honest dog-walking scheme, she blackmails him into helping her change her image at school. Henri agrees, seeing a potential upside for himself.
Soon what started as a mutual hustle turns into something more surprising than either of them ever bargained for. . . .
This is a sharply funny and insightful novel about the countless hustles we have to keep from doing the hardest thing: being ourselves.
I received an eARC through Edelweiss Plus in exchange for an honest review.
Charming As A Verb is a contemporary #ownvoices that I’m really excited to read. It has two of my favorite elements: senior year setting and laid back/uptight couple dynamics so it does sounds like it’s going to be a new favorite of mine. Plus it’s bound to have many dogs appearances, so what’s not to love??
Our main character Henri is certainly a charming one; he smiles a lot, he’s a high-achiever and overall well-rounded students, he has a busy social life, and he loves dogs. I always enjoyed his interactions with people, be it his parents, best friend Ming, Corrine, dog owners, or even his classmates. He’s just one of those people who walked into a room and effortlessly connects with everyone present. Unfortunately, his inner monologue of thinking his charms as a “hustle” sours things a bit for me as it makes his character seems insincere. He never actually talked bad about anyone, but this way of thinking make it seems like he’s not genuine with all his smiles and conversations. I can see that Henri is actually a people person though, so seeing him referring his actual skills as a “hustle” really puzzles me.
Corinne does live up to her “intense” reputation, but honestly, I love her passion! She never does anything half-heartedly, be it academics or social life purposes. Some people commenting how her social persona “Cori” actually felt forced and doesn’t feel like her, but I can totally see how school Corinne and party Corinne are actually the same person. I love how always full of passion and unpredictable energy she is. Also, she’s actually a good conversationalist once she became less uptight, as her immediate connection with Ming and Marvyn have shown us.
I talked about Ming a lot because despite not being a main character, he’s my favorite! He could be that stereotypical energetic puppy best friend, but he’s very genuine and kindhearted and it really shows on paper. But maybe the reason I adore him is because I connected with him the most. Ming is adopted from China by Jewish parents- we never really get the details on the hows- but his first choice of university is Peking University in Beijing. When he got in, he said something along the line of “I finally got to see the Mainland” and it just… hits. I’m a third generation Chinese and at this point I identify more as Indonesian as it’s the only thing I know and grew up with, but there’ll always be this itch to go back to my roots, whenever that is, and I guess that includes actually visiting China and learning the language.
I can’t say anything about the representation, but I can say this book gets the senior year correctly. From both the academic and the college pressure, but also the wistfulness as if there’s a clock ticking, where everything will irreversibly changed. But there’s a lot to unpack from this book other than that, of class privileges and being a child of an immigrant, of being a first generation Haitian-American and how it puts Henri and Corrine on different position and how it fell on him to realize “The American Dream”. We get to see tidbits of Henri’s Haitian roots too and they’re one of my favorite parts! I really want to try an orange cake now…
I don’t live in New York, so seeing and exploring the city through this book is really fun, especially since I don’t have to deal with the business and the traffic 😂 There are also a lot of cute dogs to love! At the same time, reading about community, jam-packed rush hours, and travelling during breaks sounds like relic of the past especially with the current condition 😢
Plot-wise, this book felt like it was divided into two different parts: the first half that focuses more on the romance while the second-half focused more on the college applications. Sure, the college anxiety are ever-present since the beginning, but it was pretty background level until the second-half, where it became the focus of the story. I don’t know whether it’s a good or bad thing, since it allows both issues to be developed but at the same time, sometimes the story felt like dragging (even though is not) and I feel like the romance could use a liiitle more easing up at the beginning. A lot of people complained about the romance feeling like an insta-love and I can see that, since I think there were only 2 interactions before they developed feelings? As a whole, the romance is adorable but I do feel like it’s lacking some kind of spark. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed reading it since the banter is really fun!
The writing took a while for me to adjust. I mentioned in the beginning how Henri is a people person and by that, I mean he talked a lot 😂 Not only on the outside, but also inside his head. This makes the first few chapters hard to read for me as it feels like he’s info-dumping everything about himself as well as the scenery and people around him. I didn’t realize whether it got better or not, but as I keep reading, I certainly got used to his monologues.
Overall, Charming as a Verb is an enjoyable read. It has an adorable romance and relatable final-year scenarios that always made me miss high school, with enough charm and vulnerabilities from our main character Henry that made this book stood out. I may have some issues with Henri’s monologues, but I still highly enjoyed it!