The I Love You Too Book List

Friday, August 23, 2002

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stehpen Chbosky ***

I have just gotten back from vacation were I finished reading Stephen Chbosky’s first novel, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”. This book is not a breathtaking work of fictional literature, but it is an easy, short, simple read and a was great book to breeze through during my leisurely days on the beech. I purchased this novel knowing little about it. I bought it simply because the cover art, title, and the précis on the back of the book intrigued me. As a publication of MTV Books, (a division of Viacom Inc., I know, this almost scared me away too) it is not surprising that this book has great appeal among the young adult/teen demographic. In fact, this book is wildly popular among many young readers and adults alike. The book has made its way into high school required reading lists and consequently in conservative book banning and censorship groups. This novel is not without its clichés and criticisms, yet I would still definitely recommend this book, particularly to a younger audience.

Chbosky presents the reader with an endearing story that is sad yet somehow hopeful. Written in an epistolary narrative, the novel is set during 1991 in Pittsburgh, the same year I was a senior in high school. This setting presented me with great sense of nostalgia, especially the various references to the pop culture of the time such as Nirvana, Fantasy Island, and Saturday Night Live. The protagonist Charlie (an alias) is in his mid-teens, sincere, earnest, hypersensitive, a bit of a loner, introspective, exceptionally intelligent, lachrymose, and emotionally troubled. Although emotionally involved, Charlie is both socially and personally passive to the life that surrounds him. Charlie observes and analyzes life but rarely participates. Charlie is a wallflower. It is these characteristics and the situations he finds himself in that somehow make Charlie a universal character that is easy to relate too. Charlie soon meets new friends Patrick (a gay senior who provides reciprocal support for Charlie) and Samantha (Charlie’s first crush) who introduce him to their circle of friends. The beginning of the book seemed a bit like an After School Special and the novel took some warming up to, but as the story progressed, Charlie’s character developed and my interest piqued. Charlie ends up dealing with nearly every conceivable issue a modern teenager can encounter – including but not limited to mortality, suicide, guilt, social awkwardness, crushes, drugs, alcohol, sex, molestation, dating, masturbation, homosexuality, pregnancy, abortion, severe depression, unrequited love, rape, family issues, self discovery, domestic/sexual/emotional abuse, true friendship, heartache, and bullying.

For the most part Chbosky does a great job of accurately portraying the life of a shy, troubled teen. But the chances of somebody coming across all of these issues during their first year of high school is improbable and unrealistic and in that way the novel seems slightly contrived and very melodramatic. However, the way in which Charlie resolves or handles these issues is quite realistic. Chbosky made the characters breath with simple descriptions of tone and habit, references to the nervous gestures that betray and most ultimately define us. As a whole, this novel is somewhat grievous, sections leave you sitting with a weird sense of combined disgust and wonder. The ending is not particularly encouraging. The hero doesn’t save the world in this story - just a boy going on with life after a concerning crisis. It's not like any of the issues or situations in the book are foreign to us. The sense of wonder and disgust stems from the fact many of Charlie’s issues are unbelievably typical, commonplace or regular in an appalling way. But this is also how the novel creates its appeal. It draws from our ability to relate to Chbosky’s character. It's not pointless to portray miserable situations, it can exorcise trauma, and offer shared understanding. Ultimately, this is the reason for the popularity of this novel as well as the reason for my personal enjoyment.

I guess what I'm saying is that this all feels very familiar. But it's not mine to be familiar about. I just know that another kid has felt this. This one time when it's peaceful outside, and you're seeing things move, and you don't want to, and everyone is asleep. And all the books you're read have been read by other people. And all the songs you've loved have been heard by other people. And that girl that's pretty to you is pretty to other people. And you know that if you looked at these facts when you were happy, you would feel great because you are describing "unity." It's like when you are excited about a girl and you see a couple holding hands, and you feel so happy for them. And other times you see the same couple, and they make you so mad. And all you want is to always feel happy for them because you know that if you do, then it means that you're happy, too.

Reviewed by Hubs @ 10:43 AM

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