I’m so disappointed I didn’t discover this book in High School, but at the same time I really doubt I would’ve appreciated it as much as I do now. Although I was an incredibly straight-laced kid in High School and couldn’t relate to some parts of the novel as a high school student (sex, drugs, partying, Rocky Horror?!?), I could definitely relate to many other parts. I haven’t seen the film but will definitely see it soon. I’m still shaking my head wondering what took me so long to read this book!
The scene where Charlie gave out perfect Christmas presents to each of the people in his immediate circle of friends, just from having listened to them was great! I mean that is the same thing I do. I listen and suck in all the details about people and then awkwardly regurgitate facts to them later about what they’ve said at that party or at previous parties. It’s a great party trick, but at the same time it often makes me come across as anti-social or creepy (so I assume, no one has ever reinforced this thought).
The most enjoyable part of The Perks of Being a Wallflower was the quirkiness of the protagonist Charlie. Chbosky did an exquisite job of writing from the 15-year-old view of a wallflower. From the syntax to the observations I bought that the story was told from a teenager’s perspective who was a little outside the norm and marching to their own drum. And it wasn’t just Charlie’s quirkiness, Chbosky’s characterization of all of the characters was great and varied enough to make the book fill full of characters when it was mostly about Charlie and his experiences. I felt like I met Sam and Patrick, Charlie’s Family, Brad and the other students.
Surprisingly, I enjoyed the epistolary set up of the novel. I generally find them very hard to read, but as this was a one-sided narration of a year in Charlie’s life it wasn’t too difficult to follow. It also added to my enjoyment that ‘Charlie’ was an alias and he was upfront saying names and places were mostly changed to keep everything anonymous. It’s little details like this, and the occasionally reminding that he won’t write something to keep things anonymous, which made the novel excellent!
I also appreciated the frank treatment and inclusion of gay characters. Although it didn’t seem like a happily ever after, the inclusion of characters who happen to be gay was an added benefit. The drama was of course added with Brad, but with the number of times you hear about similar experiences in the ‘real world,’ it doesn’t seem to noteworthy.
If there was one thing I didn’t like about the novel it was the anonymity of the letter recipient. I guess technically we, the reader, are the recipient, but it just left me at the end wondering who it was and what their opinion of Charlie was!
Recommendation: Chbosky sums up the book with one line, ‘I feel infinite,’ and in doing so leaves the reader with myriad choices over future potentialities. Does Charlie suffer a relapse? Do Charlie and Sam ever get together? What about Bill? Who received all of the letters and what were their thoughts?
Opening Line: “I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have.”
Closing Line: “And I will believe the same about you.” (Whited out.)
Additional Quotes from The Perks of Being a Wallflower
“Charlie, we accept the love we think we deserve.” (24)
“Not everyone has a sob story, Charlie, and even if they do, it’s no excuse.” (28)
“I think it was the first time in my life I ever felt like I looked ‘good.’ Do you know what I mean? That nice feeling when you look in the mirror, and your hair’s right for the first time in your life? I don’t think we should base so much on weight, muscles, and a good hair day, but when it happens, it’s nice. It really is.” (67)
“I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like that. That you wanted to sleep for a thousand years. Or just not exist. Or just not be aware that you do exist. Or something like that. I think wanting that is very morbid, but I want it when I get like this. That’s why I’m trying not to think.” (94)
“I don’t know how much longer I can keep going without a friend. I used to be able to do it very easily, but that was before I knew what having a friend was like. It’s much easier not to know things sometimes. And to have french fries with your mom be enough.” (144)
“It’s strange to describe reading a book as a really great experience, but that’s kind of how it felt. It was a different book from the others because it wasn’t about being a kid.” (169)
“It’s great that you can listen and be a shoulder to someone, but what about when someone doesn’t need a shoulder. What if they need the arms or something like that? You can’t just sit there and put everybody’s lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love. You just can’t. You have to do things.” (200)
“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.” (211)