The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an epistolary novel, written as a series of letters from Charlie to an unnamed ‘friend’. After his best friend commits suicide, Charlie, who is a ‘wallflower’, tries to fit in as a high school freshman. Charlie’s candid letters show his thoughts on making friends in high school, trying out new experiences as a teenager and dealing with family dramas. This is essentially a coming-of-age story.
My review – contains spoilers!
I like Charlie as a narrator. He seems genuinely sweet and sensitive. Charlie puts other people’s feelings ahead of his own. This makes him selfless, but he does suppress his own feelings to make others happy. I don’t think Charlie is a wallflower, though. If he was, Sam and Patrick would not even acknowledge him.
The writing style of this book is awkward at times. Here is an example:
And we were talking about things that seemed important at the time. And we were looking up that hill. And then Patrick started running after the sunset. And Sam immediately followed him. And I saw them in silhouette.
It annoys me when people start sentences with the word ‘And’. Charlie’s English teacher, Bill, says he is ‘special’ and Charlie is taking advanced English classes so this seems inconsistent.
This book includes themes such as suicide, sex, drugs, abortion and sexuality. I like the fact that this book does not shy away from taboo issues. Still, I thought Chbosky was trying to fit too many controversial topics in one novel. How can someone realistically experience all of these issues within their first year of high school? I also found it a little frustrating that Charlie’s sister has been through a deep and personal issue and yet her grades are not affected by it that much. In fact, she graduates second in her class.
Some parts of this book were unsettling for me. For instance, Charlie’s sister tells her boyfriend that he did not stand up to his bully. Her boyfriend ends up hitting her. Afterwards, Charlie comments:
I guess he stood up to his bully. And I guess that makes sense.
Just how does that make sense? Standing up to your bully does not mean you should turn violent. Oddly, Charlie’s sister continues to go out with this boy. Why, I have no idea. Charlie later tells his English teacher, Bill, about this incident. Bill gives his insight:
we accept the love we think we deserve.
This is my favourite quote from the novel and one that will stick with me. I think it explains why some people prefer to settle for unhappy relationships instead of being single.
There is a twist towards the end of the novel which surprised me. It actually took me a little while to realise what had happened to Charlie. This revelation effectively explains why Charlie behaves the way he does, i.e. observing events without reacting to them. Here is a perceptive passage which I like:
So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.
Our experiences shape who we are, but they do not have to define us. We can learn from past experiences, even the negative ones, and use them to move forwards in our lives.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is funny and poignant at times. Saying that, there were some parts which I found unrealistic. The writing style did not really appeal to me. Although I can empathise with Charlie because he finds high school daunting, I can’t relate to any of the characters. This novel is not life changing for me, but it has its moments.
My rating: ★★★☆☆