The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Author: Stephen Chbosky
Publisher: MTV and Pocket Books
Number of Pages: 213
Release Date: February 1, 1999
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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.
There is something a bit daunting about trying to write a thoughtful review about a book that has become a cult classic. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the type of book that truly speaks to some people. A book that crawls inside them and becomes part of their landscape. I wanted it to be one of those books for me. I first picked this up before the movie came out and really struggled through the first letter or so before putting it aside and then eventually having to return it to the library. Books that are about to become movies always have a billion holds on them, even if the book was released 14 years ago. Certain people just like to read the book first, myself most definitely included. I actually ended up watching the movie a few months ago when it came out on DVD and absolutely loved it, so I decided to give the book another chance, this time snagging an audio version for what is now my much longer commute.
I loved the audio of this book. I don't know if it was read by the same actor who played Charlie in the movie, but he definitely sounded similar. The audio was also oddly intimate with the letters being read aloud to you. Epistolary writing is one of my favorite genres and Perks is a clear example of the power this type of writing can have.
Charlie is the type of sensitive boy you don't see a whole lot of. He is sweet and thoughtful and introspective in a way that made me want to wrap my arms around him to protect him from all the hurtful things in his world. Charlie lives with both of his parents and his older sister. His mom rarely speaks and his father is gruff, but caring. His older sister is dating a boy that is abusive towards her, but refuses to stop seeing him, even when their parents forbid it. Charlie's older brother plays football for Penn State--which is a huge deal for him and his family. Charlie is the quiet one.
He meets and becomes friends with a step-brother and sister, Patrick and Sam, seniors who take him under their wings and introduce them to a high school experience he never would have had otherwise. Patrick is gay and carrying on a secret relationship with a popular football player. Sam is in a relationship with a college guy who doesn't treat her very well. Charlie is immediately infatuated with both of them--but with Sam especially. She becomes the ideal woman in his eyes, even though he knows he will probably never have a chance with her as she already has her eyes set on attending college outside of their hometown.
This slim novel has a lot of bad stuff going on: homophobia, drugs, abuse, molestation, depression, isolation, etc, but it never got too heavy for me...probably because I saw the movie first and so I was prepared for all the bad stuff that was going to go down and knew how it would all end, but WAS too much for me when I tried to pick up the book a year or so ago. It's hard to read about so much hurt, but I promise the story is worth it.
On a side note, I absolutely loved the way the author portrayed the city of Pittsburgh. While not my home town (I'm from Wyoming) it is where I hang my hat now, and I loved he really made the city a part of the novel. There are a couple of times where Charlie talks about coming through the tunnels and I cannot even explain how awesome going through those tunnels really are. On one side, you can't see anything as you come down the fairly steep hill, but once you are spit out the other side the beautiful downtown is right in front of you.
Pittsburgh really is just such a beautiful city. People always think of it as being industrial, but it's really had quite the renaissance after Big Steel went to the wayside. It's always fun to read about the town you live in, especially when the love of that town really shines through the writing.
My other favorite part of the story was the way in which his English teacher, Bill, really understands Charlie and sees the brilliance in him. Bill begins giving Charlie extra reading assignments, giving him great works of fiction to read outside of the normal curriculum. As most of you know, I'm currently doing my own semester of student teaching to become a high school English teacher, so I always love it when teachers are shown in a positive light. So often, we are shown as these uncaring automatons who not only don't care about our students, but who are blind to them. It has been my experience that those who decide to go into teaching very much care about their students and will do anything to teach and protect them.
Overall, I have to say that I ended up loving The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I loved Patrick and Sam and the rest of their friends. I loved Bill and appreciate that his parents seemed real without being perfect, but without being horrible. But most of all, I loved Charlie. I loved how smart and caring and thoughtful and romantic and just plain wonderful Charlie was. If you haven't read this yet, I'd highly recommend it. If you don't think you could stomach all the unpleasantness, the movie is wonderful, too (because the author wrote the screenplay). Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, and Ezra Miller are all spectacular in the film. I won't do a separate review for the movie since it really does stay so close to the book, but I would highly recommend it as well.