Charming as a Verb / Ben Philippe / Book Review


Henri Haltiwanger, high school senior and son of Haitian immigrants, has wrangled all of the pieces into place: great grades, a stellar social life, and a thriving dog-walking business run out of his NYC apartment.

Eyes on the prize, Henri wants nothing more than to achieve his dream of attending Columbia University for undergraduate, the launching point for his bright future. With a trademarked Smile always up his sleeve, charming has never been a problem for Henri, and on top of grades and test scores, he knows he has Columbia in the bag.

But when his standoffish classmate and neighbor Corinne Troy discovers the less-than-honest practices behind Henri's dog-walking business and threatens to expose him to Columbia and everybody else, Henri has no choice but to help her achieve her own goal: transform social pariah to social butterfly.



Lighthearted & Sweet 2020 has been a difficult year. It's nice to be able to escape into a different world every once in a while, and in this book, Ben Philippe provides just such an escape. Charming and breezy, this is a comfortable read. It may not touch on any heavy topics, but sometimes a lighthearted story is exactly what the doctor prescribed.

Fun Verbiage Because of some (rather unfortunate) advice pandered around writing communities, many contemporary authors stick with tried-and-true verbs--especially in dialogue. Philippe doesn't feel the need to stick to the "he-said/she-said" in this way, and he shouldn't have to! His characters are Ivy-League-bound, SAT-taking, private-school NYC teenagers, after all. They have to show off their test-taking vocab! Wacky verbiage adds to the flavor and the flair of this fun story.

Corinne As a romantic lead, Corinne Troy hits all the right notes. She is quirky and confident, smart and honest. She is also insecure, willing to accept help, and unwilling to compromise on her self-worth and convictions. She strikes the perfect balance between being unsure of her footing and being certain of who she is (or wants to be).


Philippe makes a fatal mistake. He quotes an exact number. There is always a risk in quoting a number, and unfortunately, the risk here didn't quite pay off. Henri's solid GPA of 3.77 is, admittedly, not-quite-Ivy-League material. The story acknowledges that well enough. In reality, a GPA of 3.77/4.0 for Ivy League admissions in 2019/2020 is not even close to the mark. Extracurriculars, test scores, and an amazing interview aren't likely to make up for these less-than-perfect grades. It might have been better in this instance to leave the numbers out of the equation. A little bit of readerly fill-in-the-blank would have been better. Inaccurate Collegiate Process

Even more unfortunately, this book feels poorly edited, though not poorly executed. There were quite a few sentences where words were repeated. "Now" might be at the beginning and the end of the sentence, for example, when only one would do the job. These repetitions were almost as distracting as the awkward order of dialogue and action-tags. Characters react to a joke first with words and laugh at the joke only after they respond--every time. Or they sigh after having already answered the sigh-worthy comment of the other party. Repeatedly, the order of dialogue/action just doesn't make sense. Once or twice seems intentional. All over the book seems like a quirk of the writing that should have been edited out. Close Repetitions and Unnatural Dialogue

This critique goes hand-in-hand with the lightheartedness of the book. It is fun to escape into a world where actions don't have consequences--or the consequences are small, nothing more than a slap on the wrist. As far as realism goes, however, this might be a problem. Anyone looking for a down-to-earth romantic YA novel might want to pass this one up. The ending in particular feels just a little bit too fairy-tale. Lack of Consequences



Fans of diverse romcoms like this one should take a look at Abigail Hing Wen's Loveboat, Taipei. Anyone who enjoyed the edge-of-high-school feel of this romance but wants a little more depth from their love story should check out Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park.


Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Date: October 13, 2020
Series: N/A
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  1. Sounds boring. Plus, getting into Columbia with a 3.77 GPA is just so unrealistic it's laughable.


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