Author: Stephen Chbosky
Publisher: MTV Books
Publication Date: February 1st, 1999
Genre: YA, Realistic Fiction
In August of 1991 fifteen-year-old Charlie begins writing letters about his life to a stranger who he thinks will listen and understand. He doesn’t want this person to know who he is, so he has changed all the names of the people in his life. Charlie has a tendency to over think things, and prefers to look on from the sidelines than to participate. As he starts high school, he is still trying to get over the recent suicide of his best friend Michael. Charlie soon befriends Patrick and Sam and is introduced to their friends. Their world is one full of sex, drugs, love, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, mixed tapes, and moments that make you feel infinite.
I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower for the first time when I was about sixteen. I’d heard a lot of people my age say that this was their favourite book, and I thought that it didn’t live up to their praise. It felt like too much happened, as if the writer had tried to fit everything that could happen to a teen in one book. I would have probably given it 3/5 at most. Earlier this summer, I decided to give it another shot, 5 years after I first read it. I was surprised to find myself loving this book. All the things that felt like too much the first time didn’t bother me. This time the events didn’t feel forced. A lot of major issues are addressed but that didn’t stop me from liking Perks. So, there you have another example of me completely disagreeing with my past self about books.
Charlie is easily the most honest and insightful teenage narrator I can think of. He thinks about and questions everything, and looks at things in a unique way. Charlie’s insights are what a lot of people love about this book and why it is so often quoted. He is very naïve and innocent as the novel begins, making his voice distinctive and unlike the average teenager. Sometimes when the writing style in a book is like that I have difficulty getting used to it, but this wasn’t the case with Perks. The writing style reminds me a bit of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and The Catcher in the Rye. Chbosky was influenced by Holden Caulfield while writing this book, and he pays homage to that by having Charlie read The Catcher in the Rye. Charlie’s English teacher Bill assigns him extra novels to read and write about throughout the school year. Charlie’s favourite book is always the last one he has read, and I liked the discussion of books, movies and music throughout the novel. All those things were a huge part of my teenage years, and I always like to see them mentioned in books. Plus the mere mention of mixed tapes makes me nostalgic.
Charlie’s friends and family felt very realistic to me. I’ve heard some people ask why people like Sam and Patrick would be friends with Charlie, but I think that they liked how different he was and that he listened to them. I’ve also heard people refer to Charlie as a Gary Stu and I completely disagree. Charlie is very flawed and both Bill and Sam point out how he needs to participate and not put others before him. Although there are perks to being a wallflower, Charlie needs to stop watching from the sidelines. The ending was surprising and gave insight on why Charlie is the way he is. After I finished reading this book the second time, I tried to put my finger on what makes this book special. It wasn’t the great quotes or the characters, but how poignant this book is. What makes me love The Perks of Being a Wallflower is how real the emotions in this book feel. A lot of the things that happened to Charlie have never happened to me, but while reading this book it felt as if they had.
"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."