The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Title: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Author: Stephen Chbosky
Originally Published: 1999
Format I Read: Paperback
Publisher: MTV Books (Simon & Schuster)
This book made me sad. It is a very sad book, so I guess that makes sense. Here’s the rather terse blurb:
Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie is navigating through the strange worlds of love, drugs, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, and dealing with the loss of a good friend and his favorite aunt.
The entire story is told via letters written by Charlie during his freshman year of high school to an unnamed person of known age and gender. For whatever reason, I just couldn’t relate to Charlie. In 1999, when the book was published, I was Charlie’s age, so I was hoping I would “recognize” him or some of the other characters in a way. But I didn’t. Maybe I was a teenager too long ago *cough* or I had a more sheltered teenage existence, but I just had a hard time believing everything that happened in this book. And Charlie sometimes felt flat and unbelievable to me. He maintains perfect grades despite partying and taking drugs and riding around to underground and dangerous places with his friend and suffering from depression and mental issues. We’re constantly told that he has a very sensitive nature, which is emphasized by his constant crying – at home, with his friends, or in public, sometimes for little to no reason at all.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of the most challenged books of the last decade. It’s not completely surprising in light of the topics covered. Every possible “teenage” situation is included in this book: drinking, smoking, smoking pot, taking LSD, throwing a party when parents are out of town, bullying football players, alienation, depression, the unattainable girl, etc. And don’t forget family drama and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Then there are even more intense situations like witnessing a rape, child molestation, physical abuse, abortion, anonymous homosexual encounters in a park, and admission to a mental hospital. It’s issue-y, to say the least.
In the end, it is the writing that wins the stars for me. The way things are worded and some of the thoughts expressed are beautiful.
My dad had glory days once. I’ve seen pictures of him when he was young. He was a very handsome man. I don’t know any other way to put it. He looked like all old pictures look. Old pictures look very rugged and young, and the people in the photographs always seem a lot happier than you are.
My mother looks beautiful in old pictures. She actually looks more beautiful than anyone except maybe Sam. Sometimes I look at my parents now and wonder what happened to make them the way they are.
I think about all this sometimes when I’m watching a football game with Patrick and Sam. I look at the field, and I think about the boy who just made the touchdown. I think that these are the glory days for that boy, and this moment will just be another story some day because all the people who make touchdowns and home runs will become somebody’s dad. And when his children look at his yearbook photograph, they will think that their dad was rugged and handsome and looked a lot happier than they are.
I just hope I remember to tell my kids that they are as happy as I look in my old photographs. And I hope that they believe me. (52-53)
Even with the beautiful writing, this is a case of like, not love for me.
(I do want to see the movie though. Did you know it was written and directed by Stephen Chbosky?)