Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Review

The Perks of Being a Wallflower came out when I was a senior in college so it wasn't on my radar for a long time. I don't know when I started to hear about it but it seemed to be one of those seminal coming of age books that people love. It wasn't until I started seeing movie reviews that I even really thought about it. And then over mini-term, I bonded with two of my eighth graders who both love reading and who now spend tons of time at my desk having our own little book club. Both girls recommended that I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower (and a couple other recommendations as well).

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an epistolary novel. The main character, Charlie, writes to an anonymous person he refers to only as "Dear Friend". Charlie is a freshmen in high school, still coping with the death of his Aunt Helen at the age of 7 and the suicide of his friend Michael which happened a year or so beforehand. Since their deaths, Charlie has felt very alone. He is incredibly smart but does not have friends. Early in the book, in shop class, he meets Patrick and later Patrick's stepsister, Sam, who Charlie is immediately drawn to. Both are seniors but they take Charlie under their wing and give him a group to belong to.

Charlie, the titular wallflower, lives a very internal life. He just wants friends and he wants those friends to be happy. He is the youngest child of a family is clearly loves him but is not very demonstrative. He is highly sensitive and cries frequently but for the most part he is deeply invested in feeling and observing. One of his teachers tells him to participate in life, which he starts to do with Sam and Patrick's group. Sam dates an older boy, who is out of high school, while Patrick is in a closeted relationship with the quarterback of the school's football team, Brad.

Throughout the year, Charlie experiences more and more things. He drinks and begins smoking both pot and cigarettes. He spends almost every Friday night watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which his friends act in. Along the way, he meditates about family, novels (his English teacher keeps giving him books to read outside of the normal curriculum from The Catcher in the Rye to The Fountainhead) and his friends. He  deals with abortion, his first girlfriend, school dances, lunchroom fights, detention and all of his friends graduating from high school). Along the way he learns a lot about himself. At the end of the novel, Sam tells him that he needs to be less passive. He needs to stop being the wallflower and learn how to engage with people in a meaningful way instead of letting them do whatever they want in order to be happy even if it doesn't make him happy. Eventually he comes to terms with trauma in his own past and in acknowledging that, it seems that he will hopefully have a happier, more participatory future.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is completely beloved and also spent about ten years on the American Library Association's list of 100 most banned books. It's probably still on the list in fact. A lot of people have compared the novel to The Catcher in the Rye, which I personally did not like when I had to read it in 9th grade (I didn't like whiny teenagers when I was a whiny teenager), but I did like this novel. Interestingly, Charlie's narrative voice reminded me a lot of Pat Peeples' voice in The Silver Linings Playbook. Both are epistolary novels featuring damaged and depressed characters trying to find some semblance of normality in a chaotic world. And I think both are certainly worth reading.

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

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