I absolutely adore reading - my love for books has had a huge impact on my life! I'm going to grad school to be a children's/YA librarian.
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 mix 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 he 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. (source)
This book has been on my to-read list for a long time. I always meant to read it, but I kept putting it off, partially due to never really having a convenient opportunity to read it, but also because I didn't want to be disappointed. There is a lot of hype surrounding this book, and while I wanted to read it, I dreaded the possibility of reading it only to find that the hype wasn't worth it. However, my book club has decided to start a Read at Your Own Pace list and, for the time being, the books on that list include all of the books that Charlie reads in Perks. So I decided that I'd better read Perks before we got things started with that list.
One aspect of Perks that I had a lot of difficulty with was how angsty it is. I am not and never have been angsty in any way and so I found it hard to connect with Charlie at various points in the novel. Fortunately, I have never struggled with mental illness, depression, or any of the other various personal issues that the characters experience in this book. I'm very grateful that I haven't, but because I haven't, while I was certainly sympathetic to those characters, I don't think that I was impacted as deeply by Perks as many other readers have been. I have some friends who consider this to be a major part of their literary experience as a young adult. These friends connected with the book on a major level because in some way they could relate to the difficulties that the various characters experienced. I'm glad that they found a book that resonated so deeply with them, but I'm also grateful for the reasons that this book wasn't quite as influential for me personally.
Although I didn't have a huge personal connection to the book, I think that it does deserve a great deal of the acclaim that it has received. It's certainly not the Very Best Young Adult Novel of All Time (in my opinion), but I do think that it's very well-written. For example, you can actually see Charlie's writing abilities improve as the book progresses. The book is told through letters written by Charlie to an unnamed friend, and at various points, he speaks of essays that his English teacher, Bill, encourages him to write, in addition to the essays that he's required to write for class. Bill basically gives Charlie a reading list and then has him write essays in response to the books he's read. He works very closely with Charlie to improve his writing abilities and you actually can see the improvement in Charlies letters from beginning to end. At the beginning of the book, Charlie frequently rambles and hops aimlessly from topic to topic - it can be kind of difficult to follow. By the end, Charlie's vocabulary has improved, and while he still has a very casual writing style, it's much more organized and easier to follow. I thought it was so cool how Chbosky took the time to focus on this detail of the book.
Also, on the same note of Bill's assignments, as an avid reader and huge fan of classic literature, I loved how frequently Chbosky alluded to other literary works. To be honest, I don't think I've even read half of the books that Charlie reads over the course of the book, which makes me even more eager to start the RaYOP list for my book club. I'll definitely be re-reading this book again after I finish the list, because I'm sure that the books are significant to the interpretation of Perks and I want to be able to see why Chbosky selected the titles that he did.
While I found it difficult to relate to some of the darker things that Charlie and his friends go through, I think that we can all relate to the feeling of struggling to fit in. Even if we fit in with our classmates during high school, we've all been in a situation at some point when we didn't quite fit. Everyone has insecurities and things that make them anxious. I do think that Charlie has a few more challenges in this area than many people do (and there are good reasons for this), but the general feeling of not fitting in is something everyone can relate to, and I felt that Chbosky did a great job of portraying his struggle, and also emphasizing that there's a niche for everyone.
There were some points in the book that I felt were very predictable. For example,(show spoiler)
However, the revelation about Charlie's Aunt Helen at the end completely and totally blindsided me. I had NO idea that it was coming and I was so shocked. Well done, Stephen Chbosky.
I can definitely see where the hype surrounding The Perks of Being a Wallflower comes from. This story is quietly unique, and I think it has a little bit of something for everyone. There's love. There are fights. There's tragedy. There's comedy. There are fantastic quotes. There's beautiful simplicity. And while this book didn't have a huge impact on me personally, I still enjoyed reading it and I can see why so many people of my generation have been touched by it. It took me longer than most to get around to this one, but I'm so glad that I finally read it!