The book club at my school, which I advise, elected to read Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower for its first book. We plan to go see the movie after we finish the book. I had wanted to read the book for a long time.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an epistolary novel about high school freshman Charlie’s adjustment to high school, including finding friends, his first crush, and dealing with some difficult issues. Early in the book, Charlie explains he is writing these letters to an anonymous reader because he heard the reader is a good person. Charlie has recently lost a good friend to suicide and is worried about high school, especially finding friends. At one of the first football games, he befriends Patrick, a boy in his shop class, and Patrick’s stepsister Sam, both of whom are seniors. As he grows closer to the two and becomes part of their circle, he learns how to stop standing on the fringes of life and “participate.”
One of the most interesting aspects of the book to me was that it was set in 1991-1992, which was my sophomore year of college, and was particularly memorable. It was my favorite year of college, and consequently, one of my favorite years of life. I was 20 for most of that school year. What a great age to be. And over half my life ago, now. I spent a lot of time that year listening to some of the new music coming out of Seattle, as well as some older (but new to me) favorites from the Pretenders, the Replacements, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, REM, and the Rolling Stones. One of my favorite parts of this book was the mixtape Charlie gave Patrick. I remember spending hours making mixtapes for my friends. You can make Spotify playlists in a matter of minutes. It’s not the same.
The book deals honestly with issues such as homosexuality, casual sex, drug use, suicide, abortion, and sexual abuse. In fact, if I have one criticism for the book, it’s that the entire kitchen sink of major teen issues was thrown at Charlie, and I’m not sure it’s common for most teens to experience every bad thing that can happen. However, I also admit I was sheltered. But still.
I can see why this book would appeal to teens, and I really enjoyed it myself. I found Charlie to be a likable character, though the book reminded me a great deal of The Catcher in the Rye. Charlie is not quite as friendless or annoying as Holden (though I admit I feel more empathy for Holden than annoyance with him). I have to admit I had trouble seeing him as a wallflower. It seemed to me as if he were a keen observer, but he participated plenty, in my opinion. Much more than I did as a teen—which could be why I had trouble seeing him on the sidelines of life.
I am looking forward to seeing the movie with the book club. I hope it’s good!