Tuesday, 16 October 2012
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
So here we are – my first review! This could be the start of something exciting or the beginning of the end! Only time will tell I suppose.
So, the first book I want to talk about is ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ a coming of age story, set in suburban America in the early 1990’s. It is written as a first person narrative, in the form of letters from the main character Charlie to an anonymous ‘friend’ (whom Charlie has never actually met incidentally) so it naturally skips between past and present tense. Despite this choice in format, the narrative flows incredibly easily and is not at all disrupted by the ‘letters’.
Our protagonist is Charlie, a fifteen year-old boy about to start high school. It is obvious from early on that Charlie has some very distinct challenges in regards to his social abilities; and, as we are treated to the inner workings of his mind, an analytical and process-oriented mind-set is revealed. There are some allusions to deeper difficulties or disabilities, however ‘diagnosis’ of Charlie is not really the point here and the reader is left up to their own opinions for most of the story. There are a lot of hints throughout, (in my opinion anyway) that the real problem is psychological, which does resolve itself somewhat as Charlie’s tale progresses.
The main focus in the story is on the way Charlie relates to the two important groups in his life: his family and friends. Despite being socially awkward, Charlie does not like feeling lonely and desires friends. At the suggestion of his English teacher Bill, he makes an effort to ‘participate’ in order to develop these relationships. This results in Charlie being accepted into a circle of friends slightly older than himself, the most important to Charlie being the step-sibling duo of Patrick and Sam. Equally important, though maybe not getting as much page-time, is Charlie’s relationship with his mother, father, older brother and sister and his relationship with his deceased Aunt Helen.
As is to be expected with this kind of story, ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ brings its fair share of delicate and pertinent adolescent issues. There’s more smoking, drinking, drug-use, romance, sex, sexuality, abuse, rape, teen pregnancy and mental illness than in a whole season of Degrassi High, and yet it doesn’t feel overdone; it feels real and honest and strangely innocent when viewed through Charlie’s eyes. Profanity is used liberally but not gratuitously, adding to the realism of the characters and setting. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments in this book that will make you very uncomfortable, but none of these encounters seem to be without purpose.
I particularly appreciated Chbosky’s decision to give Charlie’s family only the slightest amount of dysfunction. Certainly we encounter a lot of tension and angst within the family unit, particularly when the extended family makes an appearance, but it doesn’t fall into the cliché of ‘Charlie is odd because his home-life is awful.’ What we actually experience is a very average middle class family that have their own set of worries and differences, but love each other enough to be there for each other when they need to be. Perhaps that won’t matter to you, but it seemed extremely important to me.
Talking about Charlie himself is something I could do all day long, but I will try to keep it short. First, I will not pretend to be unbiased when I say that I simply adored the character of Charlie. He is frighteningly well-written, with an awkward lack of social conventions, a delightful sense of humour (I literally laughed aloud more than once!) and a heart-breaking innocence. There is so much beauty in the way Charlie sees the world, but there is a lot of darkness in him too, and I probably wouldn’t recommend you read this book if you are in a particularly dark place yourself. He is wonderfully complex and you find yourself investing in him rather quickly, something that doesn’t happen to me a lot (I have a tendency to be much more interested in supporting characters myself). Charlie is very unique and special, and yet there is something so relatable about him that sometimes I felt like he was speaking the very words in my mind; Charlie articulates a lot of those secret thoughts and desires we all have, and there’s something liberating in reading that – even when it comes from a fictional character!
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a wonderful book that will send you through a tumult of emotions and leave you wondering for some time afterwards; it is funny, thought-provoking and heat-breaking all at the same time. However, I was left with a smile on my face and I know there will always be a special place in my heart reserved for this book.
Omigosh, I actually did it! I finished my first review, and it was a bit longer than I was expecting but I had so much to say. I would love to hear your thoughts, especially if you decide to read this book.
Just a heads up that I just finished my next book, ‘The Selection’ by Kiera Cass, so expect a review on that soon. Thanks to everyone who has read this blog and please tell your friends!