The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
I’ve wanted to read this book ever since the movie with Emma Watson came out last year. I still haven’t seen it since I don’t like to see the movie before reading the book, but I figured anything with Emma Watson and such a huge following had to be great. So when I found out that Barnes and Noble had the ebook on sale for $3.99, I knew it was time to finally cave and buy the book!
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is told through diary-type letters written in the early 1990s by high school freshman, Charlie. Throughout the book, Charlie writes about his family life, high school experiences, bonding with his English teacher over classic literature and his love for pop culture. Through Charlie’s letters, we find that during his first year of high school, he deals with many very adult issues such as sex, drugs, alcohol, abuse, abortion, rape and homosexuality.
The first thing we learn about Charlie is that he may have some sort of mental imbalance or a level of immaturity, but even this is unclear. His letters are awkward and writing is direct and straightforward; he says what he means and doesn’t mince words. His style is simplistic and contrasts with the very-adult subjects he discusses. It’s hard to put a label on what Charlie’s issue is – does he have a form of autism? Is he just immature for his age? The book’s title could suggest that he’s just extremely shy, but I have a feeling there’s something more than just shyness. (In fact, Charlie’s English teacher is constantly encouraging him to “participate” more in life, be present and live in the moment.)
Despite all this, Charlie has many insightful thoughts about love and life. He’s extremely smart, and is a voracious reader, bonding with his English teacher while analyzing classic books. It’s nice to see that he has a mentor he can turn to as a friend and confide in when he has a problem. Pop culture – books, music, movies, television – is extremely important to Charlie and plays a big role in his life. One of his greatest loves is seeing and performing in the Rocky Horror Picture Show with his friends.
In the beginning of the novel, Charlie befriends seniors Patrick and his step-sister, Sam. The three quickly become best friends and frequently hang out with a group of other seniors. While it’s nice that this group of seniors has embraced and welcomed Charlie into their little group, they seem to be bad influences on him, urging him to do drugs and alcohol and exposing him to other things that no high-schooler should experience.
Although Charlie is fairly open with the “friend” he’s writing to, many issues he mentions are either quickly glossed over or hinted at and then avoided. For example, he mentions visiting a psychiatrist but doesn’t go into details about why, what he discusses or if it helps. Eventually at the end of the book, many of these mysteries reveal themselves and the answers unravel. I found myself having to pay close attention or even reread parts to figure out what was really happening. As a reader, it was strange being left in the dark until the end.
I’m still not sure how I feel about this book. Overall, I enjoyed it, but I’m not convinced that I really got as much out of it as I probably could have. Now that I know what the book is about, I may have to reread it to get the full effect of the themes and message in order to understand why it’s considered such a cult classic.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower was published in 1999 by MTV Books.