The Perks of Being a Wallflower – by Stephen Chbosky
I read this book after seeing the movie. (I know, treason!) For the past few months it had been on my “Must Read Immediately, No Really, I Mean Now” pile. Which typically consists of ten or so books. At the moment there are 14. Perks finally made it to the top: here’s what I thought of Chbosky’s YA classic.
Charlie has always felt like a bit of an outsider. He’s just not sure he fits in anywhere. So he writes to us as he observes his fellow students, waiting for an opportunity to be a part of something. Perks is Charlie’s conversation with us about a year in his life. A year of new friends, of first loves, of great teachers. A year with some experimentation and more than a few mistakes. Of new experiences, new hurts and new triumphs. It’s just a year, and to an outsider it might seem unremarkable. But to Charlie, and those of us lucky enough to read his letters, it’s unforgettable.
When Charlie meets Sam and her brother Patrick, he begins to discover how different – and amazing – things can be when you see them as part of a group rather than from the outside, looking in. Perks’s centre is a delicate, gorgeous plot that revolves around Charlie’s very familiar teenage struggle to find his place in the hierarchy of school, and to find those people who will be a part of his life.
What makes Charlie so special as a narrator is how accurately he sees those around him. He surprises his friends by paying attention to who they are and what they really need, and by never judging based on anything other than his own observations.
Charlie is the soul of this book – both because of how unique a character he is, and how familiar the challenges he faces are. Sam, Charlie’s first crush and one of his best friends, is a wonderful, slightly bruised person who fascinates Charlie with both what he can see in her, and what he can’t understand about her. But Sam’s brother Patrick is the character that stood out the most for me in The Perks.
Patrick is luminous. A young, openly gay man is rare during the period in which Perks is set, but the best part about Patrick is that he’s much more than that. Chbosky takes care that Patrick is not one-dimensional or cliché, instead delivering a vibrant young man who is reckless, smart, generous, protective and achingly vulnerable.
Too much has been said about The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I think that with a book this well known, it’s easy to allow expectations to cloud the reality of the experience. I put off reading the book far too long in case I didn’t love it as I felt I was expected to (a precaution that was entirely unnecessary, as it turns out).
My final thought is: read it. Meeting Charlie is an experience every YA reader should have.
Have you read The Perks of Being a Wallflower? What did you think of Charlie’s world?