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).

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The Young Adult Fiction Timeline

Contemporary Fiction

Contemporary Fiction (Photo credit: k.dripps)

You would have had to be hiding in an underground bunker, like in Take Shelter, for the past four years to not have realised that Young Adult Fiction is at the top of the range right now in the boookosphere. Being a teenager myself, this is something to celebrate as never before has there been so much choice for what I and all you teenagers out there can enjoy! Today I want to take you down the timeline road of YA fiction, where we will see what genres have shook up the industry and what we can expect to find in 2013. 

Young Adult literature of the twentieth century did cause quite a stir, mainly due to its controversy in a world where adults ruled. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger has been claimed as being the first true young adult novel in history, and a very good read it is too. Although it was published in 1951 with an adult audience in mind, its 17 year old protagonist, Holden Caulfield, was more relatable for teenagers and thus, it marked a changing in the growing separation between teenagers as children and as adults. The book had such an impact that it used to be censored in high schools due to its controversy surrounding identity, sexuality and profanity. This style of conveying the realistic personal truths and voices of a generation was continued by such writers as Jack Kerouac, who published his biopic following his travels throughout America in 1957 called On the Road. Another coming-of-age story of the times was the darker, The Outsiders, released a decade later in 1967. As the title suggests, it highlights the alienation from society felt by a group of teenagers in a gang of lower socioeconomic status than another.Following on from this the 1970s was the creator of what has been known as the “fab five” in teenage targeted fiction. These five famous novels were: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, The Friends by Rosa Guy, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, Bless the Beasts and Children by Glendon Swarthout and Deathwatch by Robb White. Again these stories from the 70s included the same alienation and coming-of-age approach as its 50s and 60s counterparts. Although the tales were becoming heavier, for example, The Bell Jar is consumed with depression and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings involved racism and rape. This trend of novel which focused on the conflicting emotions of teenagers has had a deep imprint on the books that are now aimed at the YA audience of today. For example, The Perks of Being a Wall Flower by Stephen Chbosky became a cult classic in 1999 and its continuous popularity resulted in a theatrical release starring Logan Lerman last year (2012). What seems to make these novels stand the test of time is their ability to still be able to connect with today’s teenage audience. They are timeless. The emotions and changes which have feed off of the coming-of-age population when they reach a certain time in their lives is nothing new, and these works of literature highlight this.

When we reach the Millennium there was a great change to the teenage fiction hitting the market. Instead of being semi-autobiographical, they started to mix with varying genres and created YA trends of their own. Harry Potter is the epitome of this. The first in the seven part series, the Philosopher’s Stone, was released in 1997 and the franchise only continued to grow once this novel was adapted into a film in 2001. There is no point in me even ravelling on about the success of Harry Potter. What I want to point out is that although everyone of any age can enjoy Harry Potter, it was our teenage generation who connected with the series the most and who were able to experience it during its peak. We read (and re-read) the books as children. We followed them on their adventure into adulthood on the screen. We have been incredibly lucky to have such an important series in our lives to grow up alongside; in all it felt like we were coming-of-age as the characters were too. The series also lead the way for book adaptations, with it being clear what the biggest and best YA fiction was out there by if it gained a Hollywood film deal.

Now, we move swiftly into the Garden of Eden with a poisoned apple hanging from every delicate tree; the vampire period. Vampires were brought back into fashion in the noughties, although they had lost the scare factor of An Interview with the Vampire and Dracula; instead they had turned into the love fest of every teenage girls fantasy. No one could escape this; even if you were a 90 year old great-great grandmother you would still have a preference: Edward or Jacob. It was quite a beautiful movement back in the day when everyone was crazed with the vampires and the werewolves, to be honest it was quite fun to have a powerful fandom like that; the 60s teenager got the Beatles whereas we got Twilight. The first in the quadrilogy was released in 2005, but it didn’t become as huge then as it did in 2008 when it became the biggest selling book of the year, due to the film-tie-in. This lead to a whole host of paranormal romance series’ making it big, for example, L. J. Smith’s The Vampire Diaries, which was first written well before Twilight in 1991, gained its own lush TV show which has gripped audiences around the world and is now set to gain a spin off. Another series which has caused great TV success is Charlaine Harris’ The Southern Vampire Mysteries, which is known to most of us as the compelling True Blood. Other literary authors on the vampire train include: P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast’s House of Night series, Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series and (more for the boys) Darren Shan’s The Saga of Darren Shan.

Girls love for everything with fangs evoked another world of science fiction and fantasy for teenagers, where creatures were making their way into the light and causing some bite. For example, we had the rising and falling of the angel: Alexandra Adornetto Halo trilogy became a great success for such a young writer herself and Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush series began this insight into the problems of the fallen. Witches and spell casters also made their appearance and again they were less sinister than what the average vampire used to symbolise. Two crucial witchy first parters will be released as film adaptation this year: Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Beautiful Creatures from the Caster Chronicles saga brings in heaps of spell casters with special abilities (think X-Men without Logan); and Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments epic City of Bones, which forces one girl to enter a world she never thought to be possible. Also, the myths and legends of the Greeks met a modern twist in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series which began in 2005, and in the name of Alex Pettyfer, aliens became hot in the Lorien Legacies.

The latest trend which has been around for the past two years now is all about imagining what our world could be like in the present and consequently in the future, a la, the dystopian novel. The novel which launched this YA genre has got to go to The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Edward and Jacob became replaced by Peeta and Gale. I can’t remember a time when this well written book wasn’t in the top 10 of the Amazon book charts, which makes sense by the fact that the novel was on the USA Today’s best-seller’s list for a staggering 135 consecutive week before the film was released in March 2012. Now vampires are taken a back seat whilst the likes of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy and Lauren DeStefano’s Chemical Garden series take centre stage.

Now what are we expecting to see for the YA generation in 2013? Is there going to be a raid of erotic fiction for the younger generation? I hope to God not! As we can see the path of YA fiction has gone a long way; we started off with autobiographical attempts and we have ended with futuristic sci-fi, far from our world experiences. It seems that young adult fiction is less about connecting with the audience from an emotional this-is-what-you-life-is-like state, and instead authors are now trying to separate their worlds as far away as possible from real life and give teenagers a fantasy adventure. I believe that this course of action is going to continue; we are going to keep gaining novels on the future of our lives and what could be, but I also think there is going to be more on what could have been. Historical fiction has always been floating under the horizons and I believe eventually they will become more predominant. I also believe that there will be continuing representations of real life contemporary literature as it’s important that there are novels about the ordinary experiences of teenagers to connect with, and with such authors as John Green creating phenomenal works, I believe this will only improve. There could also be the rise of the mystery novel; with Sherlock hooking the UK and such awesome series as Ally Carter’s Pretty Little Liars, I think teenagers want more of these thrillers to puzzle and guess over.

What has been your favourite genre of YA fiction? What genre of books do you predict 2013 will bring?