Today I sat in the local mall, sipping a butter pecan cappuccino and being vaguely aware of a man in a blue shirt conducting job interviews about 30 ft away. I was finishing The Perks of being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I know it was published in 1999, so it’s not exactly hot-off-the-press, but I knew very little about it less than a week ago, until my friend whom I have yet to assign a pseudonym to thrust it into my hands and ordered me to read it. This is my impression.
The Perks of being a Wallflower is an easy read, and is told in letters from the protagonist, Charlie. Every letter begins with “dear friend”, and ends with “love always, Charlie”. The identity of the friend is never given, and I personally interpreted them as being addressed to me, the reader. The book tells of Charlie’s first year in high school and is divided into four parts.
Charlie is a highly sensitive, highly intelligent 15 year-old. From the beginning it is apparent that he has some deep emotional issues. He doesn’t receive much affection from his family, and he is anxious and afraid of almost everything. Despite all of this, he has a kind heart and genuinely wishes everyone to be happy. He misses his aunt Helen, who was one of the only people who treated him like he was special. We later find out that Helen sexually abused Charlie, who had apparently locked away those particular memories of her. Soon after school begins, Charlie meets Sam and Patrick, seniors who are siblings by marriage, and they soon become friends. Charlie instantly has a huge crush on Sam, and I kind of want to explore this.
Sam may be the most interesting character of the lot, and I don’t mean that in a very positive way. Soon after she and Charlie are acquainted, Charlie approaches her and confesses that he had a dream they were naked together. Charlie begins to cry and apologizes. Sam sort of just laughs it off. She did however, tell him that she was too old for him and that he must not think about her in that way. However, near the end of the book, she essentially contradicts herself and tells Charlie that by not going for what he wants and doing what he wants to do, he is not being honest with himself or his friends.
“You can’t just sit there and put everybody’s lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love.”
I feel like this whole little scene was supposed to be one of the most poignant parts of the book, but when Charlie takes his friends advice and proceeds to kiss her, she tries to initiate sex with him. I understand that a lot can happen in nine months, but Sam had just gone through an emotional break up and she was about to head for college. She had no business screwing around with a freshman whom she had previous told not to think of her “like that”. And aside from this advice at the end of the book, she really gave Charlie very little. Sure, she was nice to him. She encouraged him when she wasn’t busy with other things. Whereas Charlie spent much time and energy trying to please Sam and to be there for her. I can’t be the only one who thought this. Bashing aside, I understand that she was molested as a child and that she is a complex female character, which is a rarity.
I’m really too lazy to go through all of my thoughts on this book, so I’ll just cover one more thing. Charlie’s relationship with music. He seems to have a broad musical taste, even though a lot of it seems to be in the vein of Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac. I believe Chbosky used Charlie’s taste in music as an extra way of fleshing out the character. Charlie likes music that says something (can relate!) and has a knack for finding the right song for a situation or time. He obtains most of his favorite songs from his friends, and nostalgically links nearly every song with an event, person, or time period. I like this.
The Perks of being a Wallflower is definitely not on my top 20. I think this is partially because I have never been in the public school system and all of my friends have high morals and obey the law. I cannot relate to Charlie. I have experienced a small amount of sexual abuse from a close family member, which I didn’t realize until I was older, but I seem to have coped fairly well. Anyway, I would recommend this book for most teens and young adults, because it can be revealing of the complexities of teenage life. Now I am off to watch the movie.