Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is it all about?

“I remembered this one time that I never told anyone about. The time we were walking. Just the three of us. And I was in the middle. I don’t remember where and I don’t remember when. I don’t even remember the season. I just remember walking between them and feeling for the first time that I belonged somewhere.”

During his freshman year in high school, socially awkward Charlie writes confessional letters to an anonymous stranger. When his only friend, Michael, commits suicide Charlie is left a loner until he finds companionship in two seniors, Sam and Patrick. They take him through a journey of experimenting, drugs, sex and everything else in between. Charlie searches to find his place in the world, to participate and feel infinite.

My thoughts:

I wanted to read this coming of age novel so I would be prepared for the movie adaptation. I’m extremely glad I did. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is such a wonderful story, told with such humour and honesty. Charlie’s day to day life, past memories and inner thoughts are all revealed in his letters, creating a provoking and inspirational read.

You don’t find yourself wishing for answers to what caused Charlie’s depression, rather you want to join him on the ride and enjoy what he has to say and tell. It is Charlie who drives the story. He is very special, but doesn’t realise it.

Since Charlie is confessing all to an anonymous stranger, it seems much more personal than a diary and it feels as though he is directly telling you the story. He is very sensitive meaning he cries a lot, be that may in bliss or sadness. His fragile nature seems a part of who he is, however it isn’t until the end of the story that you find out something triggered these emotions.

The book would not have had the same effect if Charle‘s original voice had been altered. To me, his way of storytelling was crucial for the books success. Some of the things Charlie comes out with are so strange that they make you stop and reread over them. These absurd comments made him comical. He would add in little details that are of no importance, but he would make them important:

“Anyway, today I decided to sit in the front with my legs over the whole seat. Kind of like I was lying down with my back to the window. I did this so I could look back at the other kids on the bus. I’m glad school buses don’t have seat belts, or else I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”

Also, he would go down philosophical tangents which bemused me as I related so much with them that it became scary:

“Sometimes, I look outside, and I think that a lot of other people have seen this snow before. Just like I think that a lot of other people have read those books before. And listened to those songs. I wonder how they feel tonight.”

“I walk around the school hallways and look at the people. I look at the teachers and wonder why they’re here. If they like their jobs. Or us. And I wonder how smart they were when they were fifteen. Not in a mean way. In a curious way. It’s like looking at all the students and wondering who’s had their heart broken that day, and how they are able to cope with having three quizzes and a book report due on top of that. Or wondering who did the heart breaking. And wondering why.”

“So I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.”

If Holden Caulfield was a teenager in the 90s I’m positive he would have been Charlie, or at least he would have accepted him as his only friend. Chbosky has admitted that J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye influenced him a lot. When I say “a lot,” I mean a hell of a lot (Charlie even ends up reading the classic!). Both stories contain the same themes of depression and alienation. There were even subtle references to the innocence of children:

“I walked over to the hill where we used to go and sled. There were a lot of little kids there. I watched them flying. Doing jumps and having races. And I thought that all those little kids are going to grow up someday. And all of those little kids are going to do the things that we do. And they will all kiss someone someday. But for now, sledding is enough. I think it would be great if sledding were always enough, but it isn’t.”

Sometimes authors only care about their protagonists and don’t bother to flesh out the other characters in their book. However, Chbosky has moulded many fresh personalities that you hurt for and care for. For example, I felt really sorry for Charlie’s gay friend, Patrick, who was in despair over his secret lover, Brad.

This is the kind of book I didn’t think would have an epiphany at the end. I was dead wrong. The answer to Charlie’s mental state was a complete and utter devastating shock.

A wallflower is a shy socially awkward person who understands the beauty and the ugly of the world. Charlie is a wallflower and you should read this book if you are one too.

Verdict: 4.5/5 – Every teenager should at some point have to read this book.

Read if you liked: The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger), It’s Kind of a Funny Story (Ned Vizzini) and The Fault in Our Stars (John Green).