Charming as a Verb
Friendship | Immigration | Contemporary High School Life | Romance
With a “Smile” for every occasion, Henri Haltiwanger knows how to please people, whether he is dealing with his wealthy, Upper West Side dog walking clients, teachers, or fellow students at FATE academy. Therefore, it comes as a huge shock to him when he fails to make the right impression at his Columbia interview. Columbia University has been Henri’s father’s dream for him for as long as Henri can remember, a dream which he has made his own and doggedly pursued his entire life. Reeling from that experience, he is then confronted with Corinne, his uptight neighbour and fellow student, who blackmails him into helping her to change her overly intense image. To his surprise, Henri finds himself falling for Corinne. But as he watches Corinne and his best friend Ming get accepted to their chosen schools, his anxiety mounts. His growing desperation leads him to make one horrible decision, which could have wide-ranging and devastating consequences.
Warm, witty and insightful, Ben Philippe’s sophomore novel is a delightful romantic comedy with entertaining characters that also provides an astute look at the pressures that surround college acceptance. He also thoughtfully depicts Henri’s deep desire to please his father, a Haitian-American immigrant who has worked hard as the superintendent of their building with the single-minded goal of seeing his son make it to Columbia. Henri is a likeable and sympathetic protagonist whose motivations are relatable even when his actions are less so. Philippe perceptively explores both Henri and Corinne’s feelings of needing to live up to others’ expectations and be the person they want and expect you to be, and how easy it is to let societal pressures blind you to your own dreams.
Philippe’s book is breezy and winsome with an effortless writing style and is a thought-provoking commentary on family, society and the difficulty of finding and being yourself.
Lisa Doucet is Co-Manager of Woozles in Halifax.