YA Friday: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Friday, October 12, 2012

Title: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Author: Stephen Chbosky
Genre: YA, contemporary
Publisher: MTV, 1999
Source: Personal Copy
Read for: Fun

Charlie begins writing letters to an anonymous person that he has never met as he enters high school. He has always been on the fringes of social life, especially since his best friend committed suicide the year before. However, with a new year and the encouragement of his English teacher and mentor to "participate," Charlie befriends Patrick and Sam, and begins a new experience that teaches him about life and love.

So, possibly the first thing you need to know about The Perks of Being a Wallflower is that it is the issues book to rule all issues books. We start out with a shy, awkward kid whose only real friend just killed himself, and then we enter into the realm of rape, teen pregnancy, drugs, depression, child abuse, homosexuality, and potentially Asperger's as well (it is never mentioned, but Charlie seems to exhibit some of the hallmarks). Basically, what I'm telling you is that The Perks of Being a Wallflower can get really heavy. There's a fair bit of pain and suffering going on.

With that said, despite the fact that my high school experience was relatively issues-free, I really found myself relating to Charlie in unexpected ways. Whether or not the standard "issues" are involved, adolescence is definitely when people start thinking in overdrive. I remember my Psych 111 teacher telling us that it was a time of developing "intense theories about the universe." I also remember being on the phone until three in the morning, discussing emotions and ideas about people that seemed like the most crucial truths to uncover. There was this layer of intensity and immense importance to everything. Reading Charlie's words really brought me back to that time in my life, and I found myself underling sentence after sentence. Everything was so magnified and passionate to him, and he was so confused about so many things, and I really enjoyed his journey.
So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.
At times I did find myself a little frustrated with the plot, just because issues seemed to crop up page after page after page. I don't doubt that many people are struggling with multiple issues in their lives, but it seemed slightly overwrought with Charlie's story, especially because he was so hypersensitive. Most of the plot seemed congruent, but the major hurdle in the last few pages of the book seemed like too much to me.

I've also read reviews of Wallflower where the reader complained that Charlie seemed immature and simplistic for a fourteen-year-old. His language was very literal and at times sounded juvenile, but the thoughts it was expressing were poignant. I really think he sounded like he had Asperger's, which would also explain his social difficulties. I personally didn't find Charlie's voice distracting -- getting used to it was just part of getting to know the character.

Overall, I thought The Perks of Being a Wallflower was a powerful book, despite being packed from top to bottom with issues. Charlie's thoughts are often insightful and at times transcendently beautiful. The music and literature incorporated into Charlie's story further enhanced the experience of going back in time and remembering the thoughts and experiences of someone just beginning to find out who they are.

3.75 stars

Warnings: Strong language, drug use, references to sex, sexual abuse

14 comments:

  1. I definitely agree that it was Charlie's thought processes that made the book for me. I underlined so many little chunks and sentences, because his voice was just so authentic and he phrased things so beautifully. It took me right back to my own naivety at school, and the bizarre flights of thought that start a teenager on the path towards finding their own opinions and world view. Great review! :)

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    1. "The bizarre flights of thought that start a teenager on the path towards finding their own opinions and world view." EXACTLY! I think that is what I liked about this book.

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  2. I've been wanting to read this one, especially since the movie is out. I feel like it's important to read the book before seeing the movie. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it! :)

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    1. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I knew I wanted to read the book first too. I'm curious how the movie has been put together now!

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  3. Nice review. I think you enjoyed this one a little more than I did... too many issues for my taste. But I did think that Charlie was likeable and I could relate to him in some ways. I'd never thought of him as having Asperger's, but that definitely fits with a lot of the things he does.

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    1. I'm not sure if he was or if he was just quirky, but he seemed a little oblivious to social rules at time. I think another review I read postulated that he was Asperger's and it definitely seemed to fit to me.

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  4. It's been such a long time since I've read Perks, like high school long time. But I do remember a little bit, and agree with this line ' Charlie's thoughts are often insightful and at times transcendently beautiful.' Brilliantly stated, Lorren.

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    1. Thanks April! I really wish that I had read this one in high school -- I think it would have really moved me then, even more so than now.

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  5. I can't decided if I want to read this one or not. It sounds like all those issues might make me feel like they were thrown in there just to be preachy.

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    1. It definitely didn't come off as preachy... more just "life is really hard." Which is true, but I think that can be conveyed without an "issue" happening every five pages.

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  6. Great review and I still need to read this book :)

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  7. This book is everywhere at the mo because of the move adpatation. It's always nice to be reading something you can talk about with lots of people. Happy readathon if you're still taking part.

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    1. It has been everywhere, and I definitely decided to pick it up because of the movie. I think that is part of why book blogging is so rewarding -- it is nice to be able to share the experience with everyone!

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