Charming as a Verb by Ben Phillippe
Look at this CUUUUTE cover! And the fun-font title! You think you know exactly what you’re getting into when you pick up this book. But it’s much more than a rom-com (in fact, it’s only a tiny bit rom-com).
Henri Haltiwanger is the charming child of hardworking, Haitian immigrants. He understands he needs to work just a little bit harder (no, A LOT HARDER) than his wealthy peers. Henri is a scholarship kid at a prestigious NYC private school. Dad is the superintendent of the high-rise they live in (as part of Dad’s salary) and Mom is a firefighter. To earn money, Henri walks the dogs of his affluent neighbors. His newest customer is the adorable puppy of Corrine Troy, a girl from his school and building that Henri describes as “intense.” This moniker bothers Corrine so much (along with basically being labeled as lacking social skills in her teacher’s recommendation letter) that she decides to blackmail popular Henri into helping her socially. See, Corinne has discovered that Uptown Updogs (the “business” where Henri claims to work) is not real. It’s a company Henri made up (complete with branding, t-shirts, website, etc.) to give him some credibility in order to secure customers. She’ll keep his secret (after all, Henri is very dependable and beloved by his canine charges) if Henri will take her to some parties and teach her how to be less intense. Cue the rom-com music. 😍😍😍
This adorable story of parties and puppies has a humming undercurrent of pressure and stress and the juxtaposition makes for a gripping read. Henri has his heart set on going to college at Columbia (partly because it’s his dad’s dream for him). He’s doing all he can to make that happen (getting good grades, participating in extracurricular activities, charming all of his teachers, etc.) but it’s not going to be enough. His rich classmates have tons of connections and opportunities that just aren’t available to people without money. Author, Ben Phillipe, does a great job of showing these discrepancies and it’s heartbreaking. So it’s not exactly surprising when Henri does what he does. He’s desperate. But it still had me singing “Say No to This” because I felt the same way about his action as I did when Alexander Hamilton had the affair with Mariah Reynolds. Kudos to Phillipe for writing a fun story with a serious look at the divisions between rich and poor when it comes to post-secondary opportunities.
Henri is a completely loveable character. He made me smile and laugh and I empathized with him completely. The decision he made was a really, really bad one. Like the kind of bad decision that could have haunted him for the rest of his life. He’s a kid. Kids make dumb decisions all of the time. It’s called growing up and it’s how human beings learn. I appreciate how the author showed a really good kid make a really dumb move and then be able to move on from it.
Finally, I love a character with an interesting hobby. Henri and his best friend are obsessed with shoes - specifically, Jordans. They spend a lot of time talking about them and dreaming about them and looking at them and, in Henri’s case, designing them. And it’s the cutest. And so relatable for lots of teens (and adults, too)!
Shout out to my nephew, Will. The biggest Jordan fan I know.
Finally, the audiobook is a blast. Listen to a sample below. Jaguar readers, the audiobook is available on Sora (the eBook is, too).
Okay, sorry. One more thing. THIS COVER ART. Here's another likeness of Henri Haltiwanger and Corrine Troy by the amazing Steffi Walthall. Check out her website!