The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky) – Book Review

I started reading this book this morning. I am reviewing it in the afternoon. If this isn’t a testament to exactly how “captivating” it is as a read, I don’t know what is.

It’s 1991. Charlie is a fifteen year old boy about to start his freshman year of high school. And he’s terrified. Especially after one of his friends commits suicide a few months earlier. The only way he manages to cope with the looming idea of what awaits him is to write letters to a “friend” who doesn’t really know him, with no return address and no way to trace back the letters.

The letters he sends are, more or less, diary-like entries: elements from his every day life that he feels are important to share, events that he feels are shaping his life, changing him and making him grow up. During his freshman year, he meets Sam and Patrick, two seniors, who accept him in and show him the life that they’ve been living. Be it driving in Sam’s truck through a tunnel with her standing in the back feeling in the fresh air to experimenting with LSD and pot at parties to opening up to sexual experiences.

Sam and Patrick, and later on their other friends, open Charlie’s eyes to a wide range of opportunities in life that he’s unfamiliar with. They call him a wallflower: a person who listens, observes, doesn’t talk about things and understands them. They make him feel included. They make him accepted. His advanced English teacher, Bill, realizing Charlie’s brilliance, starts giving him extra readings to do, shaping up this young man’s life. And in doing so, the new additions to Charlie’s life help him cope with the dark past that he is oblivious to and which lurks under his skin, ready to surface at any moment.

Published in 1999, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a much deeper book than it seems to be. It is easy to categorize it as a simply a teenage trashy book simply because of its general mood. But when you know that this book is one of the most challenged by parents in the United States, you are forced to reconsider. Why do parents feel The Perks of Being a Wallflower is “dangerous” to their children? Because the themes the book deals with are gut-wrenchingly real and they are dealt with in such a brilliantly realistic manner. Drugs, pregnancy, abuse, sexuality – all of these topics that matter to teenagers are approached in the book in a way that isn’t complex. The writing is very simplistic, approachable and easily comprehensible. At the same time, the book runs deeper than the easy language it boasts.

It is a coming of age book, like the story of its protagonists, that is candid. Charlie shares his stories with remarkable honesty, pulling you into whatever emotional state he conveys in his letters. When he’s happy, you can’t but smile. And when he goes into dark phases of depression, you can’t but empathize. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a collection of Charlie’s most important moments and his realization of the need to live those moments as much as you can, be it a shortcoming or a victory.

As Charlie discovers that he likes girls that are unconventionally beautiful to books that require him to be a filter not a sponge to the realization that truly loving someone is about wanting to see not hurt at all, even if it means being apart, you see him grow on the pages in front of you and transform from an insecure kid to a growing young adult. And as he comes to the realization that in order to reach his full potential in life he needs to stop being a wallflower, you can’t but share his infamous sentence and say it out loud: “And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”

Teenagers should read more of this and less of Justin Bieber related things.