The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky, is a coming-of-age story about a 15-year-old boy named Charlie. It’s written in the form of letters that Charlie addresses to “dear friend,” although we never learn who the friend is.
Charlie is just starting high school and is feeling a bit insecure about many things — a bit of a wallflower, you could say. How is Charlie a wallflower? Well, as one of his friends puts it, “You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.”
Charlie is indeed observant, and is a deep thinker, and is emotional (his almost-daily crying was starting to get on my nerves, although at the very end a probable reason for this is given. So I’m giving him a pass on that). Honestly, some of the things he muses about felt very familiar to me. So maybe I’m similar to Charlie — or maybe his thoughts are more or less universal:
- “I walked over to the hill where we used to go and sled. There were a lot of little kids there. I watched them flying. Doing jumps and having races. And I thought that all those little kids are going to grow up someday. And all those little kids are going to do the things we do. And they will all kiss someone someday. But for now, sledding is enough. I think it would be great if sledding were always enough, but it isn’t.”
- After watching “It’s a Wonderful Life:” “I just wanted the movie to be about Uncle Billy because he drank a lot and was fat and lost the money in the first place. I wanted the angel to come down and show us how Uncle Billy’s life had meaning. Then, I think I’d feel better.”
- “I almost didn’t get an A in math, but then Mr. Carlo told me to stop asking why all the time and just follow the formulas. So, I did. Now, I get perfect scores on all my tests. I just wish I knew what the formulas did. I honestly have no idea.”
I really liked Charlie; he seemed like a caring, sensitive kid. He hangs out with a pretty rough crowd, or at least they seemed that way to me. Books like this tend to surprise me with their language, drug use, immoral situations, etc. — I really didn’t encounter things like this when I was growing up, and I don’t know if that’s pretty normal, or if I was just especially sheltered.
We follow Charlie through his freshman year of high school. Many things happen, most not especially earth-shattering, but they seem like huge deals to Charlie, because he’s growing up. This book will take you back to some of the things you felt as a teen. It reminds me of a Robert Southey quote I like:
“Live as long as you may, the first twenty years are the longest half of your life. They appear so while they are passing; they seem to have been so when we look back on them; and they take up more room in our memory than all the years that succeed them.” True, that.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Banned Book
At the back of the book I read that it was on a list of books frequently banned in schools. I get it, because of the things I mentioned earlier. I’m not big into censoring what teens read. I have given my own teens pretty much free reign with their reading, because I’ve read a wide variety of books myself and don’t feel I’ve been tainted by any — knowledge is power, and all that — and yet, I would be uncomfortable with teens reading this book in a classroom setting. I certainly wouldn’t want to be teaching/discussing parts of it with a group of teens, that’s for sure. And, it’s a shame. Because many aspects of the book are excellent.