Title: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Author: Stephen Chbosky
Publisher: MTV Books/Simon & Schuster, 1999; Recorded Books, 2006
Where I got it: I listened to this on CD, which I got from the library.
Charlie is a sensitive and intelligent 15-year-old high school freshman, who has had to deal with his best friend's suicide before starting high school, now without a friend with which to share the experience. Charlie tells us what happens during his freshman year—his family's dynamics, how he meets and interacts with his new friends Patrick and Sam (Samantha), his private sessions with his English teacher who realizes Charlie's potential, and the typical high school problems of sex, drugs, bullying, and dealing with death (including his aunt's death years ago, with which Charlie is still trying to come to terms), among other less typical issues. All of this is told through letters to a nameless "friend," someone Charlie heard about through the grapevine and thought would understand.
I know many people have disliked this book because of its loftiness and Charlie's extreme sensitivity (he cries a lot), and I can understand where they are coming from. Charlie gives us a lot of inspirational one-liners and observations about the world. But I didn't find them to be annoying or out of place—on the ccontrary, I found many of Charlie's meditations to be poignant and thought-provoking, as barf-tastic as that sounds. But it's true. One of my favorite quotes from the book is "We accept the love we think we deserve" (24), something Charlie's teacher, Bill, tells him when Charlie lets it slip that his sister's boyfriend hit her and she accepts it.
Every character is flawed in some way, whether it is because they're blinded by love or hatred; don't want to admit or hide to their true nature or feelings; or any of the infinite number of little quirks that can make someone less than perfect. And yet Charlie is so forgiving and tries to always think the best of everyone, for fear of painting them in a bad light to his reader and of being unfair. He is incredibly innocent, despite his drug use and sexual encounters throughout the book—this all comes through in his writing, which has a certain naiveté that pairs well with his observations that we would look right over. In fact, it is because of this innocence and naiveté that Charlie is able to think in this way and show us what we usually miss.
One of this book's really great features is its introduction of a number of more modern classics. Bill gives Charlie extra books to read and write about in his spare time, asking for papers on Charlie's perspectives and interpretations on the literature. These include Walden by Thoreau, On the Road by Kerouac, Naked Lunch by Burroughs, The Fountainhead by Rand, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Readers are given some sort of insight into the books, which could very well make them go out and read them after finishing this one.
I listened to this on CD, and though the narrator annoyed me at first and sounded too old to be Charlie, he grew on me as I continued to listen. His subtle inflections and tones added to my understanding of the book, though I wouldn't say it's necessary to listen to this rather than read it.
This is a book about grief, acceptance of self, and celebrating life in the simplest ways. It is about friendship; abuse and how to deal with what is left afterward; and love. As corny as all this sounds, all of that is in here, and then some. Chbosky managed to fit everything in this one little book, fit all these problems into Charlie's freshman year of high school, without making it seem unbelievable or ridiculous. I found great insight here, and I hope others will too.
Oh yeah, this was one of the most challenged books of the past year, according to the ALA. God forbid students read about things sexuality, religious views, suicide, drugs and dysfunctional families.
Disclosure: I bought this book.