Review: Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe

Book cover for Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe. Illustration of a teenage Black boy and girl crossing a street at a crosswalk while walking a dog.

Title: Charming as a Verb
Author: Ben Philippe
Genre: YA Romantic Comedy
Publisher: Balzer and Bray
Publication date: October 13, 2020
Format / source: paperback / ARC from publisher
Purchase: HarperCollins
Own voices: Haitian-American
Rating: ★★★★☆

I originally listed this one as an honourable mention in my 2020 top reads but it’s such a great read and it’s been sticking in my mind since reading it, so in retrospect this totally makes the top 10, maybe even the top 5.

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.

The title here doesn’t lie, this is such a charming read! I still haven’t read Philippe’s debut, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager, but I’ve heard how much people loved the funny and lighthearted story and pleased to report that you can expect similar things of Charming.

The author has such an easy way of incorporating humour into his narration and dialogue and now that I’ve been following him on social media for some time, I can see that it’s his own sense of humour that’s made it onto the page. Whether Henri sharing his sarcastic quips, his best friend, Ming, joking along with him, or the banter between them and Corinne, there’s a lot that kept me laughing along with these characters.

And they’re all such wonderful characters! From the blurb, it may seem like they have some pretty serious faults (blackmail and a falsified business) but trust that they are incredibly likeable and relatable, especially as they each deal with the stress of college applications in their own way. No book has made me more happy to be past the application stage than this one, and I didn’t even have to deal with the intense requirements of Ivy League schools!

Some folks have complained about the lack of romance in this one but I loved the two together and it is billed as a romantic comedy, so the romance isn’t intended to be the main focus. I will say that the genre makes me think of more lighthearted reads and this one comes with a punch. The major conflict in this book is a BIG. DEAL. For the folks in the story, and if this had happened in real life. I felt really stressed reading out because the foreshadowing is there but I kept hoping it wouldn’t actually happen.

However, I really appreciated that with something that big, it wasn’t just brushed aside or neatly taken care of. It comes with consequences, deservedly so, and while it’s not great watching characters you’ve been getting to know forced in this situation, I felt the ending and resolution was exactly what was needed.

So I wouldn’t call it a lighthearted read but it’s got heart. Maybe don’t read it right now if you’re in the middle of applications though 😛

About the Author: Ben Philippe was born in Haiti, raised in Montreal, Canada, and resides in New York City where he teaches and writes for television. He is an alum of Columbia University and a graduate of the Michener Center for Writers of UT Austin. To this day, he still does not have a valid driver’s license, which is both #beautiful and #brave.

Author links: Website | Twitter | Instagram

Have you read any of Philippe’s books?
What are your favourite college or school reads?

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Own Voices identification based on information made public by author.
Cover image, blurb, and author info from Goodreads.

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