on January 11, 2001
I, too, felt moved after reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and agree that almost any adolescent would be able to connect somehow to Charlie, the book's freshman protagonist. However, I'm a bit puzzled that so many reviewers have neglected to bring up the fact that Charlie is ill. Sure, he has all the normal teenage doubts and yearnings, but they're multiplied by the fact that he's not mentally stable. I don't want to give any of the book away, but I will say that throughout the letters to his friend, Charlie reveals more and more disturbing information about his background. So, although this IS quite a good book, and, as many have said, comparable to A Catcher in the Rye, I would warn readers to keep at the back of their minds that Charlie is not your average 15 year old boy. Having said that, I praise Mr. Chbosky for writing a book that's so true and raw, a book that all adolescents and anyone who's ever been an adolescent can relate to. A poignant read.
on June 8, 2012
Of course I loved the book. It's so much more than "young-adult combing-of-age". For me, it was deeply moving, an often gripping story, particularly at the end, and it opened a window not just into teenagers, but into life at all stages -- this while being extremely well-written and without calling attention to its well-written-ness. What I found most striking, was showing life through a different kind of mind, what's sometimes called Asperger's Syndrome or High-Functioning Autism. AS/HFA isn't a disease, but an important difference, important to us all. What makes AS/HFA an important difference is its talents, particularly its special "perceptiveness", though not "perceptiveness" in the usual sense. More as a deep meaning to what Robert Burns wrote, "And would some power, the Gods give us, To see ourselves as others see us!"
(Know this book deals directly with many painful topics including abuse, suicide and violent bullying. It's not for "more sensitive" readers.)
Reading several reviews, I'm not surprised that some reviewers found the lead character, Charlie, "too sweet" and "improbable". In this, understandably, they miss Charlie's "diffferent" mind and more, his "different" way of being. I'm a psychotherapist, specializing for several decades in people for whom therapy has failed, often people, like Charlie, who've been hospitalized. And a dozen years ago, I discovered that maybe a quarter of my clients were in the autism spectrum, almost always AS/HFA -- often highly intelligent and able to relate to the neurotypically-structured social world, though relating "differently" and needing much more conscious struggling with the basics. After working several years with AS/HFA, I found these people had remarkable powers, and the usual "unable to relate or care" descritpion of autism just wasn't true in the ordinary sense. Most were neither uninterested nor uncaring -- in fact, quite the opposite. They desperately wanted to relate and, in some ways, they were over-caring, extremely sensitive to others. They related differently, not only to others, but to themselves and their world and, in particular, to language. Often not badly, but just very differently.
Writing in first person gives the author no place to hide. You MUST have an extremely interesting character, and you MUST know that character with ruthless clarity. Chbosky does, and he does so well that I suspect he may have a touch of autism himself. Or at least it runs in his family. Disclosure: after several years working with AS/HFA children, teens and adults, I noticed that I was unusually drawn to them; I could almost use that diagnostically. With that awareness, I figured out that autism runs in my family. And with that, the disease faded away and the differences began to shine through. Let me note a few points from "The Perks" to illustrate. Charlie's speech, thinking and relating, at first blush, seems to be almost child-like, more charcteristic of six years old than sixteen. He has an astonishing honesty, a naive not-understanding, and his use of words frequently has that unintended poetic feel of children. But look more carefully: Yes, there are situations he doesn't get in ways shocking for a middle-teen. But as he thinks about them and questions them, he often goes right to the heart-of-the-matter, and a heart-of-the-matter that's usually missed or forgotten by those of us, especially adults, who "just get it" and go on. Let me give an extended quote from the book's end:
"Later, [my friends, Sam and Patrick,] came by in Sam's pickup truck. And we went to the Big Boy just like we always did. Sam told us about her life at school, which sounded very exciting. And I told her about my life in the hospital, which didn't. And Patrick made jokes to keep everyone honest. After we left, we got in Sam's pickup truck, and just like Sam promised, we drove to the tunnel. About half a mile from the tunnel, Sam stopped the car, and I climbed in back. Patrick played the radio really loud so I could hear it, and as we were approaching the tunnel, I listened to the music and thought about all the things that people have said to me over the past year. I thought about Bill telling me I was special. And my sister saying she loved me. And my mom, too. And even my dad and brother when I was in the hospital. I thought about Patrick calling me his friend. And I thought about Sam telling me to do things. To really be there. And I just thought how great it was to have friends and a family...."
"But mostly, I was crying because I was suddenly very aware of the fact that it was me standing up in that tunnel with the wind over my face. Not caring if I saw downtown. Not even thinking about it. Because I was standing in the tunnel. And I was really there. And that was enough to make me feel infinite."
Starting out, it seems almost primitively black-&-white, until "And Patrick made jokes to keep everyone honest." In the context of all that literal-ness, it's startling. Charlie doesn't just note that "Patrick is telling jokes". Humor is often a struggle for AS/HFA, and so they need to work at understanding it. Through his work, Charlie is seeing not only Patrick's style of humor, but its function. Since AS/HFA often doesn't instinctively grasp "what" to do, they approach others and their world more basically through "why it's done" and "what it means". Because Charlie struggles to see the function of so much, he remains very much in touch with a stripped-down sense of that function's truth. Again, "And Patrick made jokes to keep everyone honest."
Then Charlie's "telling" returns to seemingly smple description. But read again: the description is less "simple" than "primary". And in many ways, this is the importance for us in AS/HFA relating. Attention to detail, of what simply "is", is consciously, clearly combined with an almost-primary way of relating to themselves, to others, to their world, as well as a primary relating to language. And when we see ourselves, our world, our lives through Charlie's AS/HFA "primary" lens, we not only see afresh. We see what is "primary", what goes to the heart-of-the-matter, what is the stripped down function, and so what is truly important. Not preachy, but very experiential -- "truly important" very much as-lived.
And Charlie winds up poetically pointing to primary experiences, connections and always-available potentials within and around us all: "And that was enough to make me feel infinite". And he got there through self and love and family and friends. Frankly, as a therapist who works most-of-all with severe trauma -- war PTSD, attachment disorders, sexual abuse, and deep grievings -- that's a short list, in those two paragraphs, of what gets lost in trauma and of what it takes to heal.
OK, I'm probably probing more than interests most potential readers. As you can see in other reviews, there are many levels to enjoy in this book. If you like, though, let yourself be touched by Charlie's "primary" description-plus-function. You may find it not only intriguging and moving, but healing. And who of us can't use a touch of healing now-and-then?
P.S. I read this on Kindle and, even on my laptop, I found it an easy read. It was particularly helpful because, now over 60 years old, I can boost up the print size, making reading more relaxing.
on April 11, 2008
I read this book for the first time recently, well aware that many of my friends when I was in high school (I'm currently a senior in college) raved about it and considered the book one of their favorites as an absolutely necessary read. I can see why they believed that (they probably still do) but I guess I just don't see the light.
There have been other reviews which comment on this, but the sheer amount of clichéd teen-angst drama make for a jumbled and highly unrealistic mess. People who loved this book have told me it that encapsulated what it was like to grow up in high school. Really? While issues like sex, hardcore drug and alcohol use, peer pressure and abuse, dealing with death and suicide and having some pretty severe sexual abuse problems certainly exist as fragments of adolescent lives, the idea that all of these issues and more can barrage a kid in one calendar year is too unrealistic for me to handle or relate to. Does a friend's suicide and sexual abuse need to even be part of this book to make it poignant and accessible? Teens, for all their supposed angst and emotional problems, also for the most part live pretty normal and healthy lives with spots of trouble that generally fade in significance as they mature and experience life. When teens read books like this, I'm willing to bet they are more likely to think they are as "deep" and "conflicted" as people like Charlie or Holden Caufield than they really are. It's as if teenagers need to read literature that says, "you're life is complex, unique and desperate" when most are truthfully not.
This is another book to be read with self-importance and pseudo-self awareness that invokes all the worst and rare parts of growing up and not enough of the quiet memories and stable lives which most kids have. Life can be complex and meaningful outside of tragedy and it's a shame that an author who writes in such an accessible prose chose to go the easy path and formulate a story that could be found in a bad lifetime movie. Read it if you want to, but don't believe the hype.
By the way, "Catcher in the Rye" was one of my favorite books as a teenager and it still ranks up there. Looking back, I believe that I was one of those victims of that "I'm deep and special and nobody understands the depth of my depthness and specialness" mentality that a book like "Catcher" can evoke. Yet "Catcher" is a far better book than this piece and will deservedly outlast it in terms of influence and readability.
on November 29, 2001
This is one of the best books I have read in recent months! Yes, it is a coming-of-age story--but it is so much more. It is sad, hopeful, and ultimately very satisfying.
I thought I was so "cutting-edge" to be reading this, only to find over 100 reviewers have already written about it!
I adored Charlie, the narrator of the story--he is so good, kind, loving, and loyal. He relates his thoughts and feeling so beautifully in letters to an unknown person. I feel that he is a fairly typical teenager, full of doubts and worries, but compounded, in his case, by depression brought on by his (falsely) blaming himself for the death of a beloved aunt.
The book is so realistic and down-to-earth -- Chobsky manages to portray all of the insecurities of these early teen years without ever resorting to angst. We follow Charlie's first year of high school, with all its tribulations, lovingly rendered by this gifted author. We see the influence one caring teacher can have on a student. We hear about Charlie's depression in his own words and take an emotional journey through his life.
Chobsky beautifully handles many touchy subjects that teens must deal with: suicide, pregnancy, depression, drugs, drinking, and romance. I would recommend this book to mature teens and to the parents of any teen.
on September 12, 2014
Loved it. Like "the fault in our stars" I tore through this one in 2 days. This is a book that will take you through the american high school growing up experience. It doesn't attempt to avoid any part of it, which is why it is often found on banned book lists at schools. I think it is easy to see why (though the author is apparently surprised). There is drug use, there is sexual stuff, some violence. Having said that, I don't think it is a book that emphasizes any of it, but simply acknowledges: these things are a part of the culture.
I really appreciate that this book does not overhype any part of life. It is not trying to sell you anything and that is so refreshing.
The story is set up as a character named charlie writing letters to a more mature person he has never met, a person who "listens and understands and doesn't try to sleep with people just because you could have." Someone describes charlie as being a "wallflower" --a person who observes things and doesn't participate. He tries and begins to participate a bit more often. He finds a group of friends that is something like the 90's equivalent of the modern "hipster" crowd, who likes to listen to music, read books, is not inclined towards pop culture, experiments with some drugs and alcohol.
This book is full of observations on the american culture from a wallflower perspective- someone who is in it, but observing it as much as participating in it. In retrospect it is beautiful for taking a calm look at it, not worried, but seeing what is there.
This book would be most valuable to the adolescents who are going through, and about to go through the experiences described. They will know that there are many parts that are socially constructed and they should know it is all a phase and to feel confident in who they are, there is more to life than what you experience as an adolescent. Experience that time, don't miss it, but be yourself, even if there is no immediate popularity, you will be fine.
Some parents would feel nervous about some of the topics in the book. But to be honest, that is life. I'm reminded of a certain man from Galilee who was eventually killed saying "don't worry about your life" and a certain hobbit from the shire saying "it's dangerous business to walk out your front door" ... it is. There are great experiences and ones that hurt and are sad. That's life. This book is a snapshot of life. If I continue to work with this age group, I will often recommend it.