Book Review

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky | Book Review

“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 mixed 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 Charlie 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.”

“He’s a wallflower. You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.”

There is a part of me that wishes I had read this book in school. There is another part of me which wonders if I would have fully appreciated it back then. 

Charlie is fifteen years old and, well I certainly can’t say he has a normal life. Sure, from the outside looking in you may think so, and I’m also sure that a lot of people go through the same things as he did.

Before I get into anything, I should probably state some potential trigger warnings. I can’t say whether the content or the way this book is written would cause emotional distress however, it might be worth it to be aware that these issues are present within the novel:

Sexual Assault; Child Abuse; Rape; Self-Harm and Suicide; Abortion; Racism; Homophobia.

A lot of these are mentioned very little however, are referenced throughout the book. Sometimes in relation to Charlie however, mostly he talks about the experiences of his friends and family. 

I became absorbed into Charlie’s world. 

We start of by learning that Charlie’s only real friend died by suicide before he started High School. Charlie was nervous about starting and so he began to write letters to a ‘friend’. We never learn who this friend is, and I suppose it’s up to us to determine whether he is writing to another fictional character, or to us – the reader of his letters. 

There are ways in which I related to Charlie, and other ways I didn’t. 

For example, I’ve always been the quiet one growing up. At school I feel I was usually on the sidelines and in my own bubble. Charlie’s teacher says:

“Sometimes people use thought to not participate in life”

Which I must say resonated with me. I can’t say it’s ever been intentional, and I think now I’m much better about ‘participating’ however, it took a long time. Don’t get me wrong, my family have always been incredible and I’ve always had wonderful friends. However, a lot of time growing up was definitely spent in my own head. 

As the school year continues Charlie does his best to ‘participate’. He makes new friends, is invited to football games and parties. He takes on extra work from his English teacher Bill – always in the form of a new book to read. He’s a straight A student however, throughout there’s a sense that his social cues and emotional stability aren’t quite as developed. As the book continues on this becomes more prevalent and by the end, while it’s never stated, I wonder if Charlie suffered from PTSD. 

One thing I will say is that because the book is so short we move on from one issue to another very quickly and almost fleetingly. I wonder if this is done intentionally because it’s from Charlie’s perspective. While Charlie feels very intensely and loves his family and friends, most of the stories he tells the reader are other peoples. 

I don’t know how, but this book was both heavy and light at the same time.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower explored a lot of difficult topics. While the author never makes light of them, I think he chose not to explore each one in depth.

They were also blanketed by anecdotes, such as the books Charlie read, the secret he kept with his Dad about the last episode of M.A.S.H. and his sister’s graduation. I assume this is because the books target demographic is 14 – 15 year olds. 

I felt that each of the side characters were developed and interesting in their own ways. Considering how short the book is, and that it’s in the format of letters told from one persons perspective, I found this rather impressive.

As an extra note, during the book Charlie made a playlist for his friend Patrick which he chose to share with the reader. I put those songs into a playlist and listened to them myself. I quite enjoyed them. They’re the kind of songs I can imagine in a movie if the characters were on a road-trip.

Perhaps listening to the music, with the wind in your hair, sat next to your friends while just being present and in the moment.

I’ve just watched the trailer for the movie and it seems very true to the book. I’ve never seen it but I’m now very curious, so watch this space. 

All in all The Perks of Being a Wallflower was a very interesting read and I’m very glad to have finally read it.

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