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Customer Review

107 of 144 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Kind of Cheezy and Implausible, But Provocative, November 5, 2005
This review is from: The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Paperback)
Even though I have a bit of a penchant for the coming-of-age genre, it's unlikely I would have picked this debut novel up had it not been selected for my book club to read. That said, it's one of those paradoxical books that isn't objectively all that great, and yet managed to provoke fairly strong reaction in everyone I know who read it, and was a great springboard for conversation. As I later discovered, it's a very controversial book in that it's made its way onto assigned reading lists at high schools around the country, while also being one of perennially the most "challenged", according to the American Library Association. The story is told by Charlie, a 15-year-old boy starting his freshman year of high school in some medium-sized Pennsylvania city. From the very beginning, the reader learns he's got a whole host of issues, including the recent suicide of his only friend, and a recent spell at a mental facility following the death of a beloved aunt. The book takes the form of letters he writes to an unnamed person as a form of self-therapy. Presumably the format is intended to draw the reader into Charlie's world, to make the reader the confidante, but it's somewhat clumsily executed. From a stylistic standpoint, the letters often lapse into verbatim dialogue found in novels (and never in letters), and one suspects Chbosky would have been better off just writing it as a straight first-person novel.

In any event, soon after school starts and it's established that Charlie is utterly alone, he manages to befriend two seniors (a brother and sister). They cheerfully-and completely implausibly-take him under their wing and induct him into their established circle of "outsider" friends (the kind who go see Rocky Horror Picture Show every Friday). The likelihood of a group of relatively cool outsider seniors actively tanking in an utterly awkward freshman stretched credulity too far for everyone I know who's read the book. But you have to accept it to continue and soon, despite being the titular wallflower, he is well on his way to learning about the classic themes of sex, drugs, and rock and roll (although it's admittedly a bit of a stretch to call The Smiths rock and roll...). Much of the story revolves around how numb Charlie is to life, and his halting attempts to "participate" in life. Alas, his social skills are completely retarded, and while he is completely nice and full of love for his friends, his cluelessness to social norms continually confuses and thwarts him. And lurking behind all of this is some heavy duty emotional damage that has him always on the verge of bursting into tears, the underlying cause of which is revealed with a grand flourish at the end.

The book moves right along at a rapid pace, however if one steps back at the end, one realizes that Charlie has managed to encounter almost every teen issue out there in a kind of smorgasbord of afterschool special issues. There's drug experimentation, sexual experimentation, homosexuality and homophobia, abusive relationships, teen pregnancy, bullying, suicide, depression, social ostracization, and so on-basically every coming-of-age topic is covered in the span of a school year. It all becomes a bit much, and Chbosky would have been much better served focusing on only a few of these instead of throwing the kitchen sink at Charlie.

Charlie's account of all this is certainly likely to generate a great deal of empathy in certain kinds of readers (a number of people in my bookgroup reported having cried at times while reading it) and a certain degree of introspection on one's own teen years. However, elements of the story read strongly of author-fantasy, of being the kinds of things that Chbosky wishes had happened to him. For example, there's the cool Teach for America teacher who gives Charlie all these extra "advanced" books to read and eventually tells him that he's not just the most brilliant kid he's ever met, but he most brilliant person! And then there's Charlie's first kiss, set up in heart-rending perfection by the much older girl he's in love with, which reads like a textbook entry of what everyone in the whole world wishes their first kiss could have been.

So, it's not a great book, there's a lot of really cheezy bits, and one has to suspend a great deal of disbelief. And yet Chbosky does manage to pull off some very nice and sometimes quite funny writing about family, friendship, and figuring oneself out. The sexual themes are perhaps more than many parents might feel comfortable with, and what's especially likely to worry parents is that no judgments are made. (Of course, if judgments were made, it's unlikely the intended audience of teens would respond particularly well to being spoon-fed what they should think and feel.) Still, it struck most people I know as a good book for generating discussion with their own kids at age 13 or 14.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 17, 2007 12:33:06 PM PST
Mare Biddle says:
Okay...did you GO to high school? And if so, um, where?

As far as your assessment of Chbosky's style, well, I bet you were one of those who jumped on the Oprah band wagon with gems like "A Million Little Pieces" and "The Lovely Bones" -- or worse -- "The Pilot's Wife." I just can't figure how you got to "cheezy."

Of course, my secret theory is that this book hit a major nerve for you -- either one of omission or commission.

Posted on Dec 20, 2007 5:11:53 PM PST
Stormcaller says:
I agree with this review wholeheartedly.

The sequence of events in this book are too perfect to be believable. Everything happens just in time and with reason, even the vague situations. I found myself having to be a "filter" (a reference to the book... ironic, eh?) when reading this. Although there are many flaws with this book, there are also many strong points. The character of "Charlie" does a great job of both distancing himself and connecting to the intended reader.

Every situation is taken to the extreme, but I wouldn't expect much else considering the intended audience. The author does well with covering up the lose ends, but should have spent more time with fewer subjects rather than trying to cover it all.

I consider this book among my favorites, though I'd like if it was more well written.

Posted on Jun 5, 2010 11:59:26 PM PDT
Cody Noone says:
After reading this review, I really have nothing to say about the book that needs to be said--you described perfectly how I felt about the book (in that I felt the exact same way you did and not your friends).

Posted on Jan 21, 2013 4:42:28 PM PST
the Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

This book is written by a fifteen year old boy, Charlie, in letter-format to a stranger whom he admires due to what he deems as respectable behavior. It focuses on the classic coming of age theme as Charlie learns to participate in his own life rather than standing back and becoming a 'wallflower'.

Although i agree that Chbosky threw in practically all stereotypical struggles of young adults, i greatly appreciated the use of protagonist vs. antagonist, Charlie vs. his own mind. I believe plot twists such as the non-consensual sexual activity in the setting of his own bedroom were necessary for Charlie's realization of his childhood and the true meaning of his relationship with his beloved aunt. Because of how this occurrence caused his mind to shut out the bad memories, Charlie's naive perspective is really unusual for a novel based towards teens. Rather than glorifying the traits of the main character and emphasizing how their difficulties are caused by the outside world, i found it stimulating to read a book where the author had hidden the antagonist deep within the thoughts of the protagonist.

Going along with your review A. Ross, the idea that a group of nonconformist seniors would welcome a mentally unstable, socially inept freshman into their circle of friends seems completely unrealistic. About to graduate high school, their reason for adopting Charlie just to have to deal with his constant break-downs and his lack of understanding for relationships is hard to grasp. I really could not discern what Charlie brought to the group other than his innocence.

"So 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" -The Perks of Being a Wallflower p.211

The writing style in this book was simplistic and easy to read, which helped to accentuate Charlie's lack of basic social and emotional intelligence. He drew many conclusions about the nature of life, like the one above. I assume the author really wanted to make a connection with the reader in a style he knew his desired audience could connect to, but it was difficult for me to accept when his dedicated English teacher, Bill, described Charlie as "one of the most gifted people [Bill had] ever known"

I would recommend this book to a friend or a peer. Despite it's few downfalls in the plot, i loved the use of character and the foreshadowing of Charlie's hidden past. I believe that his struggle to happiness and acceptance is one that many young readers can relate to.

Posted on Mar 10, 2013 3:50:58 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 10, 2013 3:52:34 AM PDT
I'm looking forward to seeing the film (which is why I read the book), although I found myself so-so with the book. It's just too implausible. People hardly go out of their way to befriend somebody who's shy and trying to mind their own business. And it is definitely weird to have so much happen to Charlie in the span of only 1 year.

I was actually a bit worried that somebody was going to kill themselves b/c I read in an earlier film review that the book is kind of dark. Thankfully, everybody was spared.
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Review Details

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A. Ross
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Location: Washington, DC

Top Reviewer Ranking: 1,418