Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York, Gallery Books. 1999. Print. ISBN 9781451696202
Chbosky’s novel can most easily be described as a work full of contradictions. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a collection of letters from Charlie, whose name isn’t Charlie, to someone he doesn’t know. Because of this fact, it is easy for the reader to feel like Charlie is writing these very honest letters directly to the reader. There’s no sense of being out of the loop. The letters cover the very tail end of Charlie’s eighth-grade year to the night before his sophomore year of high school.
In essence, it covers the wonderfully horrendous period of the teenage life known as freshman year.
From the very beginning, there is something slightly off about Charlie’s voice. The fact that he is writing to someone he doesn’t know, while hoping they’ll understand, the fact that the first few letters are about a neighbor’s suicide that deeply effects Charlie, and the fact that he repeatedly mentions being in a bad place or needing to not think too much are all quiet clues considering his otherwise completely reliable voice. In fact, his straightforward lucidity (even when accidentally high) is a large part of why the reader can both trust and invest in Charlie.
Patrick and Sam are the two friends Charlie unexpectedly makes. Patrick, Sam, and Bill (Charlie’s English teacher) are the reason Charlie begins participating in live, rather than observing, coming to some (usually bizarrely right) understanding, and doing nothing.
If set beside more recent publications, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is surprisingly tame. Not that it doesn’t cover all that the dust jacket promises, “the world of first dates, family dramas and new friends. Of sex, drugs, and the rocky horror picture show. Of…growing up.” The truth is, it does cover all of that, and it covers it well. What it doesn’t do is dwell on the wrongness or rightness of it. It presents things as cold facts and moves on. While there is never a question of ‘Is that character really doing that?’ there is also never a large amount of detail given to action. Charlie is more interested in the people and the reason than the action.
This would be a great book for those around this awkward year. For eighth graders, it’s looking at high school through a different lens. For freshmen, well, they’re living that year. Sophomores can look back and see that they made it. Which is kind of the whole point, despite the revelation at the end, Charlie made it.
Another interesting thing to note is the role of books in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. While they are primarily used as an escape, the ones Bill suggests are also used to show how Charlie is changing by “participating” and just living. That he gives the copies of the books he read away as graduation gifts to Patrick and Sam is just as telling about Charlie as the fact that he gets mad when his girlfriend gives him a new unread copy of a book she likes to gush about. It is a quiet reminder that books are important, and we can sometimes mark our growth as a person to what we read when.
YALSA Best Books for Young Adults 2000
YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers 2000
VOYA—“Charlie is an observer. A bright loner, the new high school freshman becomes the mascot and confidant of a group of older students. In a voice that is both naive and omniscient, he records the tragic and mundane events in the lives of his friends and family, using a series of remarkable letters addressed to his ‘dear friend.’…The novel has the disjointed and almost dreamlike quality of a music video. Charlie’s freshman year provides a framework for the story, with flashbacks to his childhood.”
Hansen, Jamie S. VOYA. 1999. (Vol.22, No.5) Electronic. Accessed via CLCD at http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=2&isbn=9780671027346