The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky

MTV Books, 1999

Despite being odd and a little cerebral, I enjoyed The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Written as a series of letters, Charlie very successfully shows how his life is “both happy and sad”.  He describes himself as such, and the overall tone of the book follows the emotional trajectory of that paradox. Say what? Plain English: I was telling my sister about the main character, what was happening to him, and saying how much I loved the book. But then she asked why I sounded sad about it. Even though the book made me happy. Simply put…it reminded me about all those conflicting emotions that go hand-in-hand with adolescence. Chbosky really hits it on the head, and, because good books make you feel different, I felt really different as I read through this one. It was a strange, visceral experience not unlike my own adolescence. And my experience with this book is not unique – since its publication in the 90’s, it’s gained a cult fan base quick to compare it to J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. 

Wallflower is the story of Charlie, a freshman making his way through his first year of high school. He’s shy, sensitive, over-emotional. Then he meets Sam and Patrick, step-siblings in their senior year, who take him under their wings. The result is a really honest friendship that leads to several initiation experiences not soon to be forgotten.

What’s interesting about these characters is their seeming perfection despite their obvious troubles. I respect Sam and Patrick for being so accepting of Charlie, but at the same time, I shake my head at some of the things they’re still putting themselves through. I guess that’s teenagers for you. You can only hope they come through the awkward 13-19 stage of life without too many scars. (Geez, I’m only 24 and I’m making myself feel old!)

In terms of themes, all the old favourites come out to play here: sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll are all prominent. Other thematic issues (like homosexuality,  suicide, and a cryptic discussion around abortion) make The Perks of Being a Wallflower a regular fixture on the American Library Association’s list of Frequently Challenged Books. I have to say I agree with some of the dissent this book has caused. It’s an honest look at the experience of (some) teenagers, and I think that’s what makes it so disturbing in parts. While I’m not one for censorship, it probably deserves an age recommendation of 14 or older.

And finally, an announcement about the future of Wallflower: September of this year will see it released as a movie! Not only did Chbosky write the screenplay adaptation, but he also directs. I’m excited to see the stacked cast pay homage to this contemporary classic.

And Now, Some Questions for You!: Have you read The Perks of Being a Wallflower? What were some of the books that most influenced you as a teen, or what are some recent coming-of-age novels that you think deserve more recognition? I’d love to know! Have Your Say in the comments section, below!

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  1. Pingback: Top Ten Books to Read Before Heading to the Theatre | A Novel Thing

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