the Perks of Being a Wallflower

20 Mar

Lately I’ve been a little nostalgic for my adolescence. At the age of 24, I look back at being 15 as a carefree time. Instead of being worried about bills, my job or getting a better car, I was concerned about my friends, school and the possibility of getting a license and any type of semi-functional vehicle.  As part of my current reminiscent state, I decided to finally read the Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. Chbosky instantaneously brought me back to that nerve-wracking period of being insecure and sad, yet happy, and then yet sad again…and then maybe content…sort of. It’s unlike anything I’ve been reading—to the extent that I felt the need to take notes Freshman Language Arts style (see below).

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At first, I was extremely bothered by the fifteen-year-old protagonist, Charlie, who, at first glance, seems exhaustingly sensitive in an almost whiny manner (I was pretty sick of hearing about Aunt Helen before knowing any better). But as I dug deeper into the plot, the image of a sensitive and wise young man appears. He asks his college-age, football-playing brother if his new girlfriend is “beautiful in an unconventional way,” and he wonders “Why do I and everyone I love pick people who treat us like we’re nothing.”

The novel has an epistolary format, in which Charlie writes letters to an unidentified “friend.” Through his letters, we experience the dual nature of adolescence. He can be both sad and happy at the same time. At times, he participates just by being present. He notices how people who don’t “like” each other manage to “love” each other.  The book is heavily speckled with references to film, literature and music. It helps portray Charlie’s personality while concurrently underscoring what is truly important to adolescents in helping them cope with the human experience.

ppe

At one point, Bill, Charlie’s English teacher, asks him to read the Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. He tells him to be a “filter” with little explanation. At times throughout the novel, Charlie appears to act as a filter in his own life. As he befriends a group of seniors, he observes everything around him, but doesn’t react or absorb it.  His letters give precise detail about everyone else’s behavior and speech, but Charlie rarely seems to participate. In fact, Charlie’s quest to “participate” more is a major theme throughout the novel.

To be honest, I was naïvely surprised by the explicit drug usage and instances of teen sex featured in the plot. Charlie has a few bad experiences, which I feel is very valuable to young readers.  He eventually learns that participating isn’t all about drugs or parties, but taking charge of your own life and speaking up about matters of the heart (and some Rocky Horror).

I finished the novel late on a weeknight, and ended up somewhat sad and nostalgic. Charlie is the kind of character you miss after you read that last page. He leaves a lasting impression.

 

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