Today’s review is one that I have been looking forward to writing ever since I finished this book – The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. It’s a hard review to write though because, honestly, where do I begin? There is so much in this book, and it’s not a big book! My copy only has 213 pages!
The story is told through a series of letters written by Charlie, a fifteen year old boy heading off to high school for his freshman year. We are never told who he is writing to, as the letters all start with “Dear friend.” Charlie confesses that this is a person he has never actually met, but who he has heard is a good supportive friend. I had the feeling throughout the book that maybe this person didn’t really exist, but was just Charlie’s way of expressing himself. Regardless, these letters chronicle Charlie’s freshman year of high school and how he learns to fully “participate in life” and not just be a “wallflower.”
There are so many relationships throughout this story. Charlie’s family has an interesting dynamic, and don’t always get along, but it is clear that Charlie does know that he is loved. He also falls into a group of friends at school, most notably two seniors – Patrick and his stepsister Sam. Charlie instantly falls in love with Sam, who sort of takes Charlie under her wing. I think my favorite relationship was between Charlie and his English teacher Bill, who sees potential in Charlie and gives him harder books to read and papers to write. He is the one who encourages Charlie to break out of his shell and live his life to the fullest.
There is a bit of a darker undertone to this story. Charlie is clearly not well. He has a lot of mental issues, partly because his good friend in middle school commits suicide, and partly because of another issue which I won’t go into here because it’s a pretty big reveal towards the end. This book has been banned or challenged many times, and I can understand why. There is a lot of alcohol and drug use, as well as very open discussions of teenage sexuality, from Patrick’s relationship with Brad (the high school quarterback who is still very much in the closet) to Charlie’s relationship with Mary Elizabeth and later Sam. This book doesn’t pass judgment on any of these topics. They aren’t really shown in a positive or negative light. These are just things that happened, which gave the book a strong feeling of honesty.
This book made me laugh and it made me cry. It also made me feel incredibly nostalgic, not because I had any of the experiences that Charlie had, but because it makes me remember what my life felt like when I was his age. How wonderful it felt to see your future stretching before you, full of infinite possibility. Anything could happen, back then. This is why I read a lot of young adult fiction, even though I’m well into my 30’s – to regain that feeling, even if just for a little while.
This is a great book and, although it may not be for everybody, I think most people would benefit from reading it.