on June 30, 2000
I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky, in April of my sophomore year at college. A friend lent it to me and I had read it within twelve hours. This book reaches inside of you and pulls everything to the surface. It is a beautiful and painful story about a 15 year old boy, Charlie, moving through his freshmen year of highschool. It is written in letter form to an unknown friend. Charlie is always completely honest, whether he is describing his first "beer" party where he witnessed a girl being raped by her boyfriend, or explaining masturbation and his excitement for this newfound "activity." Charlie is a wallflower who observes people and feels very deeply for the experiences occuring around him. His favorite Aunt Helen died in a car accident when he was six, and he holds himself accountable, and his best friend committed suicide a year before he began the letters. His English teacher realizes Charlie's potential and brilliance and asks him to try and participate, which Charlie agrees to do. He becomes friends with two seniors Patrick and Samantha and begins to experience dances, parties, the Rocky Horror Picture Show, pot, love, bad trips and sexuality. We feel exhilerated when Charlie describes his happy moments, and we are swallowed in pain when Charlie is overwhelmed by his depression. Charlie's realizations are eye opening for us, and we are so captivated and immersed in his life that his life and stories become a very real experience. This book is about moments, and being as much alive within each moment as possible. It is about looking around us at the world and the people and appreciating that we don't know what their lives are like, and the pain and happiness that they experience day to day, so we shouldn't judge them but accept them and appreciate them. A favorite section of this book, for me, was when Charlie describes the movie It's A Wonderful Life, and how he wished the movie had been about one of the less heroic characters so the audience could have seen the meaning that this person's life held. That moment is just one example of Charlie's amazing intuition. This book should not be limited to a certain "category" of people. I truly believe that it would be understood, appreciated, and loved by everyone aged 12 (+ or - a few) and up regardless of gender, race, sexuality, etc. This book changes you, if only for a moment, but you are not the same upon completion, and you become more appreciative of life then ever.
on July 12, 2001
I bought this book for my 13 year old daughter but wanted to read it first to see if it is appropriate It is a wonderfully written book in which Charlie, a deeply sensitive boy, finds true friends and learns to live, to love, to lose, and move on. The author gives this boy a voice and it's magnificent. I so appreciate Charlie's depth of emotions. I have a sensitive, emotional son and will want him to read this book in a couple years. Suicide, homosexuality, infatuation, deep deep friendships, finding yourself and re-finding yourself are all themes in this book. The author captures "moments" of adolescence -- those incredible high moments that might last just minutes -- and makes them so real. If only more kids could put a voice to these feelings. One reviewer doesn't think this book captures adolescence in the 90's -- I don't know because I'm a Mom . . . but I don't care. Charlie deals with drugs, smoking, drinking, messing up friendships, feeling alone, and uncovers family problems he has to deal with. And he deals with it as a young man who can stand back, look at it all, and make decisions about what he has experienced. I want my daughter to read it, maybe now or maybe in a couple years, for the hope it left me with. Charlie survived being hopelessly in love with one of his best friends. It hurt and he felt it and it didn't defeat him. With everything thrown at kids in jr. high and high school this book might just help them survive it a little more intact. I think I'm going to go talk to my kids right now . . . .
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.
on June 15, 2014
Back when this movie came out, I heard good things about it, but we had a baby and no free time, so never got around to seeing it. Then I heard it was based on a book, and I thought, well, at least I have time to read... but as I was reading blurbs and reviews of the book in preparation to buy, I kept seeing it compared to The Catcher in the Rye.
I hate The Catcher in the Rye. More than any other book I can think of, I loathe that book, I loathe Holden Caulfield, and it is at the very top of my list of Books-I-HATE-that-Everyone-Else-Loves (followed closely by The Great Gatsby). And of course the fact that everyone else loves Catcher in the Rye makes me loathe it even more. So, based on all those CitR comparisons, I took a pass on The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Yet I kept hearing good things about Perks, and eventually I broke down. The good news is, the comparisons to CitR are undeserved (though I get why people make them): Holden Caulfield is a spoiled, entitled, jaded, self-indulgent, self-centered, whiny little douchenozzle; Charlie is (blessedly) not. Charlie is observant, sensitive, generally considerate, and focused on others much more so than on himself (to his peril, as we learn). However, he's far from a perfect narrator: despite his prodigious intelligence, Charlie is painfully (sometimes unbelievably) naive and clueless in social situations. He's also mentally ill. His diagnoses are never made explicit, and I'm not a doctor, but I'd say he's suffering from depression and PTSD from several childhood traumas, including the suicide of one of his only friends, the death of a beloved aunt, and another, deeper trauma (so deep Charlie himself has shut out the memory) that is not revealed until the last pages of the book.
Despite Charlie's imperfections as a narrator, I connected deeply with his story. This book is set in 1991-1992, Charlie's first year of high school. That puts him one year behind me (and since he stayed back a year, we are the same age). Like Charlie, I too found my niche in high school among the semi-geeky, semi-awesome (depending on one's perspective) artsy crowd. Like Charlie, I too spent countless hours with my friends listening to Nirvana and the Smiths and watching Harold and Maude and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Like Charlie, my friends and I wrestled with issues like unrequited first love, teen dating violence, substance use, sexual orientation and identity, suicide, abortion, and childhood sexual abuse.
I've read several other reviews that criticize Perks for raising all of these issues in only a glancing way, without thoroughly dealing with any of them. I see what these reviewers are saying, but I think that critique is grossly unfair. Charlie's perspective is very similar to my recollection of my own high school experience. All of these huge, weighty, adult issues kept popping up unexpectedly, and you just had to figure out how to think about them, talk about them, what to do about them in the moment so that you could get back to the day-to-day business of finishing your homework, preparing for exams, going to this weekend's party -- but no, you never actually solved these problems. You didn't figure them out. You dealt with them as they came up, and then you spent years reflecting on those experiences, learning from them in the hope that you will deal better the next time you find yourself in the same boat.
Why only 3.5 stars, then, if I found Charlie so authentic? The ending. *So* disappointing. I don't want to spoil it for anyone (and the book is totally worth reading, even with the bummer ending), but I will say that Charlie has a very late-in-coming revelation of a major childhood trauma that sends him around the bend. He gets hospitalized for two months, and upon his release, suddenly he has a new shiny happy outlook on life that, frankly, he didn't earn, and I don't buy. I don't mind the relatively superficial treatment of all of the other weighty issues of the book, but Charlie is this book, he is the narrator, and if we can't trust him, we can't trust anything about the story. I'd have been happier with an ending that left him damaged but honest.
This nifty little book, perhaps the closest thing to a turn-of-the-twenty-first-century Bildungsroman that’s ever been written, effectively depicts the angst of contemporary adolescence just before the advent of cell phones, social networking, and virtual ubiquity.
Charlie, our epistolary narrator, tells his story through letters written to an unnamed “friend.” There seems to be nothing unusual or unique about Charlie—he lives with his loving parents, his older sister and his older brother, who is away at college (Penn State, to be precise) playing football. He experiences the anxiety and unexpected joys typical of most ninth graders. He becomes friends with step-siblings Patrick and Samantha, who support him and love him and introduce him a wide variety of people. Charlie stumbles through his first crush, his first date, his first kiss.
Charlie also happens to be extraordinarily sensitive and unusually kind. It’s all very sweet and endearing. His acute sensitivity sometimes sparks odd behavior—a lack of communicativeness, aimless wandering, almost catatonia. It becomes clear that something very troubling is occurring beneath Charlie’s sweet demeanor. That something is ultimately revealed at the end of this poignant novel, and the source of Charlie’s underlying unease significantly alters our understanding of his adolescent tribulations.
Powerful, convincing, and genuine, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” has earned its place alongside classics like “The Catcher in the Rye” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” (The list of books that Charlie’s English teacher gives Charlie to read adds a clever postmodern intertextuality to the story).
on July 21, 2000
i read this book a few days ago. i started it at 12:30 that night and read it straight until morning. i would be the first to admit that i'm an avid reader; reading constantly and sharing my opinions (solicited or unsolicited) about that books that i have read. i'm very critical and terribly hard to please, but yet this is the first book that i honestly COULDN'T PUT DOWN. it was fascinating, being a teenager of about Charlie's age, to read something that didn't preach, exaggerate, lie, or hide the truths of life. this book best described the side of highschool where they experience the "forbidden" things: drugs, alchohol, sex, and the rocky horror picture show. it had the raw aspect to it, Charlie was totally honest in the letters and showed that he was overwhelmed, struggling and desperate at times as many teenagers are. though it is easy to dismiss his type of friends as misfits, outcasts, misguided, they were true friends to him and helped him through a terribly difficult time. this is what high school is really like for many even though adults don't want to admit it. Charlie is such a great kid, you grow to love him and his friends as the letters progress and you feel pain when he does, happiness when Charlie is happy and betrayed when he is so. this isn't just a book, it's an experience and i promise you will be changed. i don't promise you'll like it, because if you don't want to acknowledge what you may be afriad of you won't, but you will be changed. that i can guarantee.
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 September 30, 2003
I'll admit at first I was a bit put off by the overall "sweetness" of the main character, who I felt was created as a "sympathetic" movie-character fabrication (he loves his mom, loves his dad, loves his sister, loves his brother...it made me roll my eyes, seeing how "good" and "nice" this boy was; not since Leave It To Beaver have I seen such a "goodness" portrayed), but in the end the book won me over -- and I was moved by it. And that's what counts. The novel works! The only other book to affect me this way, despite my early misgivings, was The Losers' Club by Richard Perez. In much the same way the protagonist of that book was portrayed as a "good guy," a hapless loser -- and I couldn't get into it until the last half. There, too, I was finally affected by the main character -- and the book as whole. So you never know until the end. I say this to anyone reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower -- hang in there. I guarantee you'll be moved by this novel!
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.