The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999) – Stephen Chbosky


Two stars

Read Dec 15 2014 – Dec 24 2014

“I walk around the school hallways and look at the people. I look at the teachers and wonder why they’re here. Not in a mean way. In a curious way. It’s like looking at all the students and wondering who’s had their heart broken that day…or wondering who did the heart breaking and wondering why.”

Charlie is a freshman. And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But Charlie can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

Here’s an idea for a drinking game – take a shot every time someone cries in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. You’ll not be doing your liver any favours.

But no, maybe I’m being a little bit unfair. To many, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply touching coming-of-age story – but I fall into the category where it just did not live up to the hype. Complete disclosure – I did watch the movie when it was released (about two years ago) so that very well could have lessened the impact of the book. I knew what was going to happen: a few details I’d forgotten, or possibly weren’t even in the movie, but overall the two were on the same note. Keep in mind that Chbosky directed the film.

Or maybe I just honestly couldn’t relate to Charlie and his problems that well – growing up (or as grown up as some of us get) was pretty straightforward. A bit of the usual teen drama but nothing like the hellish high school experience that seems to crop up in literature. Then again, I did go to a quite affluent all-girls private school, and it still kinda strikes me by surprise when friends mention bullying at their schools. Sure, there was the inherent bitchiness that happens when you keep 150 teenage girls in such close proximity, but most of that was group politics and not so much bullying between groups. If that makes sense. I’m sure this is all very relevant.

But those aren’t Charlie’s only, or even main issues. Spoiler alert, his best friend committed suicide before Charlie started high school, and (revealed in the closing chapters and epilogue) Charlie was molested as a child by his (now deceased) aunt. (Yeah, brackets are great for the inarticulate!) So yes, I have studied psychology for about two years at uni, but a) who really “studies” in the first (two) years of uni, and b) we actually didn’t cover the chapter on childhood trauma and abuse. So I can somewhat non-guiltily claim to be ignorant on the whole matter. I did find Charlie rather immature, not in a behaviour way but in an overall slow development way. I was kinda surprised to find out his was 15, as his inner voice just felt childish. I’m gonna chalk this down to his experiences, and not just poor writing on Chbosky’s part.

As for the other characters, I never really connected with them that much. It was a lot easier in the movie, the cringy parts were cringy and the euphoric parts were euphoric. But reported in Charlie’s tone it just all… happened. This event happened. And then this event happened. And then this. Like I mentioned before, I could be biased because I’ve seen the movie.

And now regarding the plot, I don’t have much to say. As with most coming-of-age stories, it’s not the plot at all but the character development. Charlie starts high school, is a loner, and meets Sam and Patrick (who were both seniors) who welcome him into their friendship and eventually Charlie decides to participate more in life. I feel like I’m belittling it a bit, but there isn’t a major story line – just little things that happen, day-to-day – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

One final comment, reading through some of the material on the internet reveals that in some schools, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is actually banned. I’m mildly surprised – nothing in the book really bothered me, I like to think I’m open minded when it comes to sexuality or drugs and alcohol. But I never gave Patrick and Brad a second thought, I do drink occasionally and while all drugs elicit in me is a mild curiosity to experience them, I believe that it’s other people’s choices and I’ll never encourage them to do it, though neither would I lecture them (within reasonable circumstances). So all in all I would definitely object to a banning of this book.

Overall: did not live up to the hype. Not a bad book, but probably not one I’ll be reading again or recommending to others, and there are definitely other books which could be read. I was reading it trying to get that feeling that you get at the end of a really really good book, which I had heard The Perks of Being a Wallflower to be. I feel like if someone’s watched the movie, don’t bother chasing up the book. I’m not sure if those who read the book first should see the movie – it was a decent movie that I actually will be chasing up again now that I’ve read the book.


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