Updated on August 5, 2015
43. ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ by Stephen Chbosky
‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is the classic coming of age story. Charlie begins to write letters to a friend of a friend, who he has never met, but who he thinks sounds nice because he once refused to sleep with someone at a party, even though he could have done it. In his letters he talks about starting high school, making friends and meeting girls. He is a gentle, thoughtful young man, whose experiences during the novel shape and change him tremendously.
Essentially this is the story of somebody who watches others and does very little himself. He’s shy, and the various entanglements he finds himself in are more accidental than active. For example, he briefly dates a girl called Mary Elizabeth, but their relationship is based on Charlie keeping quiet about the things he dislikes about her. There is a moment of decisive action – at a party, during a game of spin the bottle – but it erupts in his face so horribly that it frightens him.
I was a little confused at the beginning: Charlie’s voice seemed too young for the age of his character, but as I got used to it I found it very endearing, and so readable that I couldn’t put the book down. In fact, as you learn more about him, the innocence of Charlie’s tone becomes more complicated: he has been exposed to quite adult things very young (sex, violence, a verbally abusive grandfather). I got the sense that he had tried to remain the ‘little boy’ for longer than usual, because of his confusion about the things he had seen. By the end of the book he has greatly matured and, in that sense, the book is very satisfying, for its clear developmental arc.
It would be easy to dismiss the book as a tale of petty teen relationships, but here these relationships are given great significance. Sure, there’s all the bitching and secret-keeping you might expect, but seen through the eyes of a boy to whom it means everything, the whole drama comes across as tender and affecting.
The ending was, for me, quite unexpected (but then, I’m not known for my ability to guess the twist), and could seem a little out of the blue. Whilst the ‘surprise’ did appear quite quickly in the story, once it was out there I felt it explained a lot about Charlie’s character and his apprehension. And, of course, it was crucial for helping him move on and stop being simply a wallflower.
“You can’t just sit there and put everybody’s lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love. You just can’t. You have to do things.”
Having seen a queue extending out of the cinema and down the street for this film, I thought I’d better read it at last. I’d had it on my list for a while before the film, but that’s what galvanized me to finally buy it. It’s quite short and I finished it in a day. Next stop, the movie!
If you enjoyed my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?