The Perks Of Being A Wallflower
Contemporary Fiction / Young Adult
Charlie is a freshman.
And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it.
Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But he can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.
Rating: 4.25 / 5, and *Unputdownable*
Awwwwwww! Yes, I had to start my review of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks Of Being A Wallflower that way. I’ll admit that I was already familiar with the story thanks to seeing the film adaptation starring Logan Lerman and Emma Watson (which I adored!). So, I was looking forward to reading the novel when I finally got it – but I wasn’t expecting it would further endear me to Charlie, the introverted, intelligent yet socially awkward protagonist.
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower chronicles Charlie’s freshman year of high school in the form of letters typed by Charlie to an anonymous friend. The novel acts as the character’s diary, revealing Charlie’s observations, secrets, and discoveries about life as well as the darkest corners of his childhood. Readers learn about his anxieties over high school, his family life, and the new friends who open his eyes and change his life forever. The most memorable of those friends are Patrick, a rebellious senior who celebrates and struggles with his homosexuality, and Patrick’s candid, nurturing, and equally free-spirited step-sister Sam, whom Charlie falls for despite her being in a relationship with someone else.
Chbosky’s epistolary format of The Perks Of Being A Wallflower brings the reader so intimately close to Charlie that it’s impossible not to bond with him. You’ll feel his excitement over attending his first party, his disappointment whenever he sees Sam with her boyfriend, his sadness when he recalls his birthday as the anniversary of his beloved Aunt Helen’s fatal car accident. Perks is also an excellent exercise in voice. Charlie’s language is plain and to-the-point; it truly resembles how high school students talk. At the same time, it masterfully explores the depth of Charlie’s intellect and emotions and lifts it all to the surface in ways that readers of all ages can understand and relate to.
I can understand why some people have challenged or been offended by the book’s mature content (mostly drug / alcohol use and sex). However, I wouldn’t place myself among those opponents, even though I chose not to participate in such experimentation as a teenager. Here’s my take: Had Charlie not dabbled in those areas of life, I doubt he would have grown in the way he needed to in order to move on from his past. Sometimes we have to be thrown out of our comfort zone in order to evolve. By the time Charlie writes his final letter, the core of who he is hasn’t changed, but he’s a stronger, more grateful character who’s ready to live life to the fullest.
The only thing I wasn’t crazy about was how the major revelation of Perks was handled. It sneaks up on the reader, without indication that something unspeakable had happened to Charlie when he was younger. Perhaps his younger self didn’t understand what had been going on, and he had repressed those memories until they clawed their way out at the story’s climax. I swear it was approached differently in the film (gradual hints instead of suddenly), but I could be wrong. Regardless, even though I knew the revelation was coming, the book treats it more like a last-minute plot twist than an explanation for some of Charlie’s behaviors.
I knew I loved The Perks Of Being A Wallflower when I finished it, though. It’s the first novel where I wanted to reach through the pages and hug the protagonist – on multiple occasions, and for different reasons. When a story elicits that kind of emotional reaction from readers, you have to applaud the author. That’s the ultimate reason why Perks is a must-have for every YA lit lover’s bookshelf (though the subject matter requires an open mind) and deserving of its recognition as a timeless classic in its genre.
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