Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Release Date:
February 1, 1999
Publisher: MTV Books and Pocket Books
Source: Library


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.

This haunting novel about the dilemma of passivity vs. passion marks the stunning debut of a provocative new voice in contemporary fiction: The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

This is the story of what it's like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie's letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course 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.

Through Charlie, Stephen Chbosky has created a deeply affecting coming-of-age story, a powerful novel that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller coaster days known as growing up.(courtesy of Goodreads)


I am computer-less for the next week. My hard drive decided to take an undeserved vacation, so it is on its way to Salt Lake City where it will get a brand new hard drive. I'll pick it up when I fly to Utah this weekend (going to the Libba Bray event!!!!). I'll still be able to update the blog through my husband's computer at night but my comments will probably be limited. Boo. :-(

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a classic coming of age literary young adult novel. Too often these kinds of novels try too hard. As though the authors unconsciously push the plot and characters into the background and place themselves in the foreground: "Hey, my writing is incredible! I'm really smart! Look at me!" But The Perks of Being a Wallflower is not like that. It is the perfect balance of character, plot, and skillful writing.

Charlie is an unusual boy living an ordinary teenage life. I mean unusual in the best way. He is young for his age, naive, quiet, and genuine. He has no bravado, yet he is a man of his word. If he promises to help you, he will; if he promises to hurt you, he will - with steadfast determination and no fanfare. He is haunted by the recent suicide of his friend and by things that we understand as the book goes on. He tends toward depression. He is intelligent and thoughtful. Despite his naivete about high school culture, his observations about the world and humanity are from a mind far beyond his age. These kind of characters often feel fake - like an adult philosopher masquerading as a teenage boy - but Mr. Chbosky writes Charlie in such a way that I entirely believed him. I spent much of the novel wishing I could be friends with Charlie and wishing I could give him a hug and make all his worries disappear.

Perks is as much a story about a family as it is about friends. Charlie's family is slightly disfunctional in a very real sense. They're not the picture-perfect TV family, but neither are they the disturbed, need-to-alert-CPS families that authors often create to drum up a plot. They have their own demons, as all families do. I loved Charlie's relationship with his sister. They're at the age where a three year age difference is starting to feel smaller. There is a gap in experience but their lives are converging. Life most siblings, they hate each other, they love each other. They snap at each other, they go out of their was to help each other.

Of course, there wouldn't be a story without Patrick and Sam. (And Mary Elizabeth). Doesn't everyone wish they'd had wise seniors to take them under their wing freshman year? Patrick and Sam are kind and open-minded. They befriend Charlie out of genuine kindness. There's no "I'm doing you a big favor" or "I'm just pretending to like you" attitude. Patrick and Sam realize they are mentors of sort to Charlie, but see him as an equal. They also appreciate Charlie for his ability to like them. Life as a gay teenager is even harder in 1991 than it is today. Patrick doesn't have it easy. And Sam is different than other girls. A free spirit that also seems trapped.

Perks is an epistolary novel. The use of letters to tell the story puts the novel in the literary realm. Charlie's musings about life works feels far more genuine in letters than if they were included in the traditional narrative format. However, epistolary style inserts distance between the reader and the events. It can make the book feel impersonal. I thought the book was written in such a way that Charlie's voice stood on equal ground with the actual plot.

And what is the plot? It's nothing remarkable. Just a typical school year in a typical school full of typical kids. Books about ordinary life are often the most remarkable kind, because we can all relate. I loved reading about Charlie's fledgling relationship with Mary Elizabeth, his adventures at the Rocky Horror Picture Show (a movie which I have not and probably never will see), and just the every day moments of friendship.

Perks is one of the most frequently challenged books for censorship. And I can see why. The list of controversial topics it doesn't cover is smaller than the list it does cover. We have drugs, alcohol, homosexuality, abortion, rape, dating abuse, and more. Yet anyone who reads this book with even a slightly open mind should realize that the "edgy" parts of Perks are the least memorable. What will stick with you are Charlie's sweetness and wisdom and the power of family and friends.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower should be on the list for any fan of well-written contemporary novels. I think if I'd read this at 13 or 14, it would be my iconic novel, the one I'd read over and over. It didn't have quite that level of sticking power for me, but I loved the book nonetheless.

Rating: 4 / 5


  1. "Yet anyone who reads this book with even a slightly open mind should realize that the "edgy" parts of Perks are the least memorable. What will stick with you are Charlie's sweetness and wisdom and the power of family and friends." ~ I agree! Chbosky's style is simple yet downright fascinating. I read this one for the Banned Books Week and I wish I've read it sooner. Nevertheless I love the book and hope to read more like it. =)

    In Library Paradise: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

  2. I really want to read this before I see the movie. I love contemporary fiction, I don't know why I haven't gotten to this one by now! Glad you enjoyed it, that's encouraging :)

  3. This one reminded me a lot of "Catcher in the Rye" but I still think I could relate to Holden Caufield more so than Charlie. I like the issues that were brought up in the book but I thought there were just too many to hone down. I'm curious to see the movie.

  4. I have this book to read! i picked it up once I saw that the movie is coming out. Awesome review!

  5. That really sucks about your hard drive Alison! I hate when I'm computer-less. I feel so unconnected to the world and it causes me stress:) Glad you at least have your husband's computer to check in now and again.

    I've been seeing this book everywhere lately, and every time I see it the more I want to read it:) Lovely review as always!

  6. This one's totally on my list. I had hoped to read it during Banned Books Week but it wasn't in the cards. So cool that you're coming to Utah. Our state's the best one (not that I'm prejudiced or anything :D) Hope you have a good time while you're here! :D

  7. I hate when my computer dies!! ;((

    Oh and I sooo need to read this book and I want to see the movie!! I actually didn't know this book was already out since so long, but now I won't be able to stay away..

  8. Have fun at the Libba Bray event!

    I'm really excited to see the movie since I just read this novel recently!

    I totally agree with "Charlie's musings about life works feels far more genuine in letters than if they were included in the traditional narrative format. " His letters are just so heartfelt and pondering.

    Crazy Red Pen

  9. I must be one of the only people who hasn't read this book. I need to get to it before I see the movie. I still haven't seen The Hunger Games because I haven't read the book yet. Yikes! I know! I am such a book before movie kind of person. I can't do it the other way round!

  10. Oh, I am sooo sorry about your computer! Mine decided to call it quits about a month back so I've been taking home a school computer at night. Just not the same!

    Terrible but I haven't read this book yet. I really, really need to. Especially because I do want to see the movie, too! Okay, you talked me into it.

  11. I read this book sooo long ago! Are you watching the movie?

  12. Forgot to mention, the movie is with Ezra Miller, the creepy guy from "We need to talk about Kevin." I really want to see him in a different role.

  13. After reading your review I think I definitely will . . thanks for that!

  14. Really well said, Alison. I considered writing a review for this book, but then immediately decided that the prospect was a bit too daunting because I loved it THAT much. But you did an excellent job describing what made this book so special!


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