Charlie is starting his freshman year of high school. He’s worried about making new friends after suffering a loss in middle school. His brother has started college and his sister is now a senior. He thinks too much and says very little. In an effort to work through the trenches of his high school experience, Charlie begins to write letters, detailing the many new events in his life from drugs, romance, and literature to the moments where every teenager wishes and finds a place to belong.
And so I begin.
There are good times. There are bad times. And then there is high school.
I hated high school. Hell, I still hate high school. But like Charlie, the wallflower narrator of Chbosky’s powerful debut, I can look back and point out certain specific people and moments where everything just made the right amount of difference. This book immortalizes all those right differences to mark the journey of one kid that speaks to not only a generation of teens but it also speaks to those who remember what it was like to be a teenager.
The complete and honest truth? I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower again because I’m mourning the fact that the film version is not playing in any theater near me. My sister and I had plans to watch it. But as it’s not in the cards at the moment, I figured the next best thing was to go to the source and just read the book again. Reading it a second time, the fact still remains that I am a great admirer of this book.
Chbosky chose the epistolary form for his book, a unique choice in my opinion, compared to the straight-forward narrative. I actually analyzed another novel for my thesis project which focused on the choice of using letters as a format for the story. It allows for a more personal experience, on the parts of both the reader and the writer. When one thinks of a narrative, readers know they are given a certain set of guidelines. They get setting, plot, characters and themes. All of the facts are presented because it is necessary for the reader to understand the work. With letters, on the other hand, the writer provides the information that they feel the need to write about or to talk about with someone else. They give as much or as little information as they think necessary. The letter provides a reflective atmosphere because the writing and reading of a letter can be a cathartic experience. And Charlie needs to write everything down as much as he needs someone to read what he’s writing. For that, I love the fact that this tiny little novel is a collection of letters.
As for the writing itself, it’s straightforward and honest, simple and yet brutal at the same time. This is a kid with a lot of pain in his heart and yet he always puts others first, even in his letters. He doesn’t talk about himself so much as he talks about his friends, his concerns for them and what he wishes for their future. The writing reflects the inner workings of one uniquely introspective kid. The letters are written over the course of one year of transition, one that most people remember, that period of becoming a freshman in high school. There isn’t a need for over-the-top descriptions or elaborate vocabulary words. The writing is believable in the fact that I could think it was written by an intelligent and sensitive 16-year-old kid. He makes interesting points, gives honest opinions and admits when he doesn’t understand what’s going on in the world around him. As a book about life and change, Charlie’s quiet reflections demonstrate the vast potential within a teenager and the little choices that shape them for the rest of their lives.
In terms of characters, the main trio of the book, Charlie and his new friends Patrick and Sam, are both relatable and recognizable. They’re kids struggling just like every other teen in high school, an observation that Charlie makes at one point in the novel, as well. There’s nothing unique to the obstacles in their paths, as every teen in the world is struggling with school, family and love, over and over again. These three go through the same relationship stumbles and falls, the same striving for an identity that they want and the clashes this causes within the confines of high school just as every other high school student does in the country. And yet as a reader, you want to see how they survive because that’s the point of the book. Growing up and figuring out where you belong; understanding who you are and how you relate to others. Every teen in the world can relate to that and the characters of this book. I loved the friendship between these three kids and the fact that seniors Patrick and Sam took little freshman Charlie under their wings and helped him to grow up, face his fears and understand his pain. Those kinds of friends leave a mark on your soul and it’s obvious that these three teens are proof that true friendship is possible.
So in the end, I think this book has power. It is to be admired for its brave portrayal of a kid with a heart like no other and the ability to see more than anyone gives him credit for. I read this book and remember the pain of my high school experience and, like Charlie, I’m grateful for the fact that it happened and secure in the knowledge that having gone through it once, I know that bad times happen and eventually I’ll get to the good times again. So thank you little book, my dear friend, and I hope to see you again in another year or so.
Rating: 10 Stars
This book is beloved by many. Some readers know why; others will soon find out. It’s brilliant and it is a truth that people can recognize. For the continuous impact it has on readers alone, it deserves 10 Stars.