Summary: Charming As a Verb
Henri “Halti” Haltiwanger’s mom says he’s “charming as a verb” — and she’s right! Henri’s parents are Haitian immigrants. While his dad is their building’s Super, his mom is studying to become a firefighter. He’s popular at his high school and runs a successful dog walking business. The thing is: he tells customers that there’s an entire network of dogwalkers, of which he’s just one. When his neighbor and fellow high schooler Corrine’s mother hires him to walk their dog, Corrine quickly uncovers his sham of a company.
Corrine then essentially blackmails Henri into helping her get a social life (to look good on college applications) in exchange for keeping quiet about his fake company. It turns out Corrine is the only one who can seem to see past Henri’s charms. Henri is also hustling to get into Columbia, his father’s dream college. Together, Henri and Corrine form a friendship that eventually blossoms into something more.
This book was so sweet. I really liked Henri and Corrine too. Both characters were realistic and believable, and very much human and messy. A major theme in this book is the college admission hustle. I love when YA books touch on this subject because it’s such a big deal for many kids at this age — getting the right scores, choosing the right universities, and even funding their education.
Henri has an active social life and is on the debate team. He also has super supportive parents. Yet, he has his issues. For one, he won’t let anyone from school come to their tiny apartment. He’s also DESPERATE to get into Columbia just to fulfill his father’s dreams. Still he is a sincere character that many will root for. I also loved his friendship with Ming, who is a trans-racial adoptee and Henri’s best friend.
Corrine is an interesting character. She seems very prim and proper, but readers quickly learn that there’s more to her than meets the eye. Her steadiness balances out Henri’s personality, and I liked reading about their relationship and the way it grew over time. I liked the way the parents were included in this story. The two also take a fun trip to Montreal and spend a lot of time with Corrine’s Border Collie.
Overall: Charming As a Verb
Charming As a Verb is a charming (pun intended), realistic young adult novel about finding one’s place in the world. Ben Phillipe’s sophomore YA book tackles several themes from the immigrant experience, familial expectations, the pressure of college admission season, and finding a person with whom we can be our truest selves. The protagonist and his love interest are dynamic and relatable — you’ll be rooting for them by the end of the story.