Title: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Author: Stephen Chbosky
Publisher: MTV books and Pocket Books
Published: 1st of February 1999
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.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming-of-age debut novel by Stephen Chbosky. It is a first person epistolary novel, set over twelve months, from August 1991 to August 1992. The story is set in Pittsburgh, PA, and follows the mind of the narrator and main protagonist, fifteen year old Charlie.
This award winning, young adult, fiction novel handles teenage issues in a delicate and moving way. It has been compared to books such as the award winning compilation young adult novel, from John Green and David Levithan’s, Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Chbosky deals with a series of teenage problems throughout the novel. He touches on suicide, teenage pregnancy, abortion, homosexuality, abuse, bullying and sexual assault.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a poignant read. It is an emotional roller-coaster; sharp, perceptive and painful. From the very first page the reader is exposed to heartbreaking, touching, distressing and agonizing emotion. The novel has won multiple awards including the ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2000) and the ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (2000). The Perks of Being a Wallflower is now a major motion picture, starring Logan Lerman and Emma Watson.
Chbosky lays the novel out as a series of letters Charlie writes, from the beginning of freshmen year, to an anonymous receiver named Friend, chosen because he considers they “are alive and appreciate what that means” (3). The book opens in Part 1 with Charlie’s first letter. It is here that the reader is introduced to the voice of Charlie, an emotionally and socially awkward teenage boy.
As narrator, Charlie writes that he is “both happy and sad”, and that he is still trying to “figure out how that could be” (3). He writes about the loss of his friend Michael to suicide the year before, and how he is trying to understand ‘why’. Charlie tells Friend that he is writing due to his starting freshmen year at high school the next day, and he is scared of being alone.
Charlie’s voice throughout the novel, combined with Chbosky’s language,grasps the reader from the first few pages.
I found discovering the character of Charlie allows an appreciation of the brilliance in Chbosky’s writing. As a character, Charlie is shy, and emotionally and socially awkward. He comes from a seemingly stable family with loving parents, and is a character you can easily fall in love with.
Charlie begins his freshmen year by befriending his English teacher, Bill. Bill shares different English classics with Charlie, who consumes the novels. This experience helps Charlie discover his love of writing. Here you start to understand how Chbosky uses Charlie’s letters to show the reader his growth, bothemotionally and creatively. His letters become less awkward as his vocabulary matures tremendously. Charlie finds himself through his writing. He decides he wants to be a writer and the letters are his way of developing.
Furthermore, Bill helps Charlie begin his life outside of himself, by telling him to ‘participate’ in life. Charlie decides, at this moment, that he does not want to be a wallflower in his own life; he is going to ‘participate’. With this in mind, the shy and awkward Charlie finds the courage to introduce himself to his future best friends, high school seniors, Patrick and his half-sister Sam.
Throughout the year Charlie writes letters that tell of his experimentation with drugs and alcohol along side his new friends. Charlie experiences his first kiss and his first date. The letters show him standing up for his friends, finding himself in writing and music, and starring in the Rocky Horror picture show. He falls in love, learns lesson on friendship, and discovers there is always more to life if you ‘participate’. As a character, Charlie grows through his experiences. He makes mistakes and matures because of them. The greatest obstacle Charlie faces is revealed at the end of the novel.
Throughout the novel, Chbosky left clues that made me wonder if, other than the death of his Aunt Helen and his best friend Michael, something else had happened in Charlie’s childhood that made him feel so dejected.
We find the answer in the last letter Friend receives. It is from Charlie, written after he has spent two weeks hospitalized from a nervous breakdown. He writes that he was found completely naked on his couch, just watching the television, although it wasn’t switched on. It is the realization of why he is the way he is that allows Charlie, as a character, to begin his life with acceptance and forgiveness. He says goodbye to Friend, saying he is too busy trying to “participate” to write anymore, and he is not afraid of starting sophomore year tomorrow. Chobsky finishes the novel beautifully with a quote from Charlie, “[b]ecause I was standing in the tunnel. And I was really there. And that was enough to make me feel infinite” (230).
Chbosky has created characters every teenager can relate to in Charlie, a shy and awkward wallflower, Patrick an acentric homosexual struggling to find acceptance, and Sam who just wants to feel the love she deserves.
The characters, like most teenagers, are trying to find their place in the world. Chbosky has created a true coming-of-age story. By using letters to tell Charlie’s story, Chbosky allows the reader inside Charlie’s mind. He has created a novel that confronts and challenges the reader from the beginning to the very last page.
At only 232 pages, the novel can easily be devoured within a day. All of the characters are realistic and credible. I believe every teenager will be able to relate to at least one of the characters in the novel, and share in the emotions of being a teenager with Charlie and his friends. Chbosky has created a world in which friends, music, and infinity are all possible. Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is a must read for teenagers and parents of teenagers.