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