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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower made high school a little easier for me. It was something that I could point to that said I was not alone. A touchstone of the awkward loneliness of the lost and confused. And I was afraid to reread it. It had been something greater than ten years since I read and loved Perks, what if I had changed while the novel had not? Books have great power and I was afraid that this one would lose its place for me as an adult reader.

It didn't.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the story of Charlie, who is slowly learning to be an active participant in life. Charlie begins his first year of high school scared and alone. To cope, he writes letters to a stranger. This is someone he's been told will listen and understand. Someone Charlie can trust because they “didn't try to sleep with that person at that party even though (they) could have.” The format of the novel in letters so suits this books as it affords an intimacy that would have been lacking from a more straight forward telling.

Charlie's letters, addressed simply to “friend,” follow him through his freshman year. From the lonely first day, to his first party, first kiss, all of the wonderful lessons learned from books, teachers, and new friends, and finally to the end of year departure of those who are graduating and moving on. The book is about learning to navigate the complex relationships that come postchildhood, especially a childhood that ends as abruptly as Charlie's.

Charlie has been stuck between the innocence of childhood and the harsh realities of the adult world for most of his life. He was forced into situations he was not yet capable of understanding which led to a series of mental breaks. This instability is what led Charlie to his life as a wallflower; he was too trapped in his own mind to participate in life. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the narration of his breaking free of that incapacity through friendship and books and music all leading up to actions. Because actions can make life feel infinite.

I identified completely with this novel as a young adult, my review may be biased, but I think that The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an important book. I feel that it is too cliché to refer to something as “the new” anything, but if it must be said then Perks is the new Catcher in the Rye. It is a novel that gives friends to the friendless and a place to go for anyone who doesn't understand or isn't understood.

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