Title: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Author: Stephan Chbosky
Publisher: MTV Books and Pocket Books
Publication Date: February 1, 1999
Genre: Coming-of-Age, Mental Illness
Rating: 5 Stars
Dear fellow Babblers,
It’s very rare that I go about writing a review on a classic, or a book that was published over ten years ago. Such books don’t really need the marketing or to be written about on blogs, nor do readers really go about scouring the internet for pointless nonsense on books already sitting and collecting dust in bookstores. Also, I don’t often read the same book from front to back over and over and over again. I’ve always believed that there is so many wonderful characters and worlds out there to discover that lingering more than necessary over one means to sacrifice all the others. That was all before I fell into Charlie’s backwards world in Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
I was roaming around the shops during my vacation in Milan back in October when I came across an English bookshop tucked away in one of those tiny shops that are impossible ever to find again. Nothing really drew me to the book I just saw it sitting on a crowded table along with all our other American authors – Steinbeck, Sinclair, Twain, the list goes on and on.
So here I am over a month later on my way to writing a review of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. No, it did not take me that long to finish the book. The thing is, I read and reread the book from start to finish three times since. This is no exaggeration. The book and its characters has really touched me heart during a time in my life that I feel myself slipping away and unfamiliar with the soul taking over.
The critically acclaimed debut novel from Stephen Chbosky, Perks follows observant “wallflower” Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie must learn to navigate those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.
So Charlie, the narrator is a wallflower. This is an epistolary novel.Through a series of letters he recounts his observations of the world. His first year of high school is a long trail of tears, love and wrung out confusing feelings. Charlie is, quite bluntly, an emotion and disastrous wreck. The reader enters the scene following the suicide of one of Charlie’s only friends, Michael. All he really is in search for is someone kind. A kind individual who listens and doesn’t break others’ hearts, even when they could have.
Introverted young Charlie still suffers after the death of his Aunt Hellen, blaming himself for her being gone. Everyday on his birthday, he replays the last day he saw her over and over in his mind, putting the fault on his own shoulders for not having prevented her from driving on that one snowy day.
It’s in Charlie’s nature to watch life from the outside, rarely participating. All this begins to slowly change and take shape when Charlie begins spending time with Nothing, better known as Patrick and his pretty step sister with the green eyes that don’t make a big deal out of themselves, Sam. These siblings are both seniors, but welcome awkward, but gentle Charlie into their friendship circle. They introduce Charlie into a life of living: smoking, drinking, first dates, first loves, pulling him out of his little bubble of loneliness and instability.
Charlie comes from an average family. His father is stern, but practical. His mother is the most beautiful woman Charlie has every laid eyes on and alway in accord with Charlie’s father. His sister is pretty and treats boys awful because she knows she’s pretty. Charlie’s brother gets into Penn State on a football scholarship and spends time talking, watching, doing – living for anything else. Charlie loves his family. There are several moments, such as when his brother ignores him or his sister pushes him away, that Charlie has to feel spite towards his family, but he just can’t help but love them even more. He is such an endearing character that I couldn’t help but fall for him with the turn of every page. Charlie does seem rather disturbed at times with his sporadic mental breakdowns but instead of thinking him as mentally challenged or even autistic, I choose to seem him as a teenager who just looks at the world differently, perhaps with a more innocent and delicate perspective.
Charlie’s letters reflect his perceptions, participation and “non”-participation in the world and involvement with those around him. His feelings are deep and raw. Charlie’s mind plays tricks on him and its really his thoughts that mess him up . The less he seems to think and spend time with others, the better off he seems. His reactions to serious situations such as molestation and abuse are late and altogether wrong but I really think that’s what gives Charlie his charm and makes this book so powerful. He thinks, weighs matters in his head and, whatever the consequences may be, put’s the desires and wants of others before his own, even when that means losing some of his own happiness in the process.
And then there’s the writing style that had be absolutely twisted up in knots, not knowing whether to laugh or cry more than half the time. There were moments where Charlie’s account of things were so bizarre and strangely phrased that I just couldn’t help but laugh. But then, there were also handfuls of letters that just left me broken-hearted and questioning what life really has to offer altogether. So many little things happen to Charlie, but reading his experiences through his personal perception shows how much the “little things” in life build, and also destroy one’s faith and confidence in the world. I just really liked how deep and raw Charlie’s emotions were. He is affected by anything and everything from being touched by a girl to reading his new favorite book.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower touches upon the nitty gritty of growing up. This is a coming-of-age story. Though I’m twenty two years old and working in a high school myself, this book still touched me. It was all more than what being a teenager is like. It’s about heartbreaks, depression and abuse from both an outward and inward perspective. I felt at times that I was in the story and then others like I was watching Charlie’s life pass from a distance.
Charlie’s narration and the way he told about his experiences and his friends was strong and so realistic that at times I became lost between his world and the world I myself was occupying. Charlie is native and knows it. Everything he writes is innocent, delicate and has a harmonic romance about it. At times it was hard to believe Charlie was writing as a fifteen-year-old because there’s some things he was just so lost about such as sexuality and even common teenage drugs like LSD. However, I can’t say that this was a negative because Charlie’s persona makes him a character in need of love and attention which is the whole reason behind his letters to the reader anyway.
At a period in my life where very little seems to make sense and much of what I had once had faith in is beginning to fade away The Perks of Being a Wallflower was a twinkle of company in my solace. I can’t say that it has rescued me from my hopelessness and disillusionment with the world but it has shown me that there are people out there who have it a lot worse. However, no matter how hard anyone else’s life is, it doesn’t change one’s own. I continue to battle my own mental illness, but I am now more aware that I am not alone – there is always a spirit out there, be it in a book or real life, who struggles similar if not worse heartbreak. Feeling nostalgic for an earlier time in my life, or perhaps one that never existed anywhere but in my imagination, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a book that I will forever hold close to my heart and look to for strength to persevere through the tears that have blinded me for so long from one home, city, country time to another.
(Book image credits go to Goodreads)