While not a new book, I read Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower after becoming enamored with the film of the same name that came out in 2012. While I took a long time to finally see the movie, I made mention of it in class and a well-read, annotated copy of the book showed up the next day.
As expected with any text in the teen genre, Chbosky tackles the typical teen issues: love, lust, loss, sex, drugs, and as a central theme for the text participating in life. Written as a series of first person letters, the novel centers around Charlie, a rising high school freshman who exists on the fringes of society and specifically teen life. Not only does he not fit in, he does not understand what fitting in entails, how to approach the idea, or how to really go about his days in general. He is the kind of guy that walks home for an hour rather than tackle the social dangers of the bus, the kind who sits alone at lunch because he has no place. Thus Charlie is a Wallflower, always on the outside looking in. His peers in general do not like him. He goes about his day almost as a wisp invisible to those around him and mocked by those who do see him.
In fact, Charlie writes his letters to a friend of unknown name or character, a person he thinks would want to listen only because the friend did not take advantage of a girl when he could have. Charlie recognizes the fact that he does not and will potentially never know the friend, and thus he spills his fears, thoughts, and emotions to the friend. Charlie details the suicide of one of his few middle school friends, his growing accidental but growing attachment to a group of seniors (Patrick, Sam, Mary Elizabeth, et al.) kind enough to invite Charlie into their group of wallflowers, and the emotional trauma associated with the loss of his Aunt Helen.
From here the novel follows an awkward sense of discovery, one that is as beautiful as it is awkward. Characters stumble down predictable paths, deal with real world themes, but do so through the innocent lens that Charlie proffers. At the urging of his English teacher Bill, a man who grows to love Charlie, Charlie undertakes an odyssey of literature. This literature, classics that prompt Charlie to think and consider all stages of life, gives Charlie an escape while all the while urging him to participate in life. Charlie stumbles upon Patrick’s homosexuality, specifically as Patrick is in a room with the school’s quarterback, a relationship that is both taboo and doomed to fail. Charlie falls in love with Patrick’s stepsister Sam, someone who loves Charlie too, but not in a romantic way, at least not at first. As expected he undergoes a lot of firsts, ranging from drugs to dances to sexual encounters, but he does so through the veil of emotional damage. Like a Holden Caulfield, there is something wrong with him, but unlike Holden, who never finds an answer, Charlie under goes his catharsis, deals with genuine demons, demons that would haunt any and all, and comes out all the better.
- “I need to know people exist. I think you of all people would understand that because I think you of all people are alive and appreciate what that means.”
- “I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out what how that could be.”
- “For the rest of the school year, the teachers treated me different and gave me better grades even though I didn’t get any smarter. To tell you the truth, I think I made them all nervous.”
- “And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”
- “Maybe these are my glory days, and I’m not even realizing it because they don’t even involve a ball."