The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Maybe these are my glory days and I’m not even realizing it because they don’t involve a ball.

This is a sort of coming of age novel: nothing particularly special about it, nothing necessarily noteworthy, but a nice, pleasant read nonetheless. The book is composed of the letters that Charlie, our main character, a 15-year-old high school freshman, writes to someone. The letters are more like a diary, since the addressee supposedly doesn’t know Charlie – and Charlie doesn’t know him personally either, he only heard a story about him in the cafeteria once. It’s a strange choice for a confessor, but then again, Charlie is an odd boy.

Smart and capable with schoolwork, talented even, at least in English class (Bill, his teacher, never fails to encourage him and gives him books to read outside of the curriculum); Charlie is, however, socially awkward – or more socially awkward than any normal 15-year-old. Probably because he thinks somewhat beyond his age, he manages to make friends with a few seniors: Sam (the girl on whom he will have a crush throughout the year), Patrick (her gay half-brother), Mary Elizabeth (whom he will date for a while), Bob (their weed supplier, really), Craig (Sam’s boyfriend) and Peter (Mary Elizabeth’s boyfriend, once she and Charlie break up). In his letters, he talks about the ebb and flow of his relationships with his new friends, of their (and his) romantic disappointments, their downward spiraling (particularly Patrick’s, after Brad, his closeted boyfriend, breaks up with him) and their subsequent recovery. But these friends form only half of Charlie’s universe, the other half is his family – parents, older brother and sister, plus grandparents and various cousins, aunts and uncles he sees at holidays and celebrations. He tries to analyze their history, their relations, and the influences in their lives (drunken parents, philandering husbands, abusive relationships etc) that modeled them into what they are now. For example – he makes some very astute observations about his grandfather, a mill worker, and the price he had to pay to get his two daughters into college and he is the only one in the family to know about his sister’s abortion. This reminds me that I had a bit of a problem, especially in the beginning of the book, with Charlie’s voice. He just seems a lot younger than 15 in his thinking – and sometimes a lot older. Then again, maybe that’s what 15 is – a bridge between two worlds – but I still found the tone a bit too fluctuating.

A name often invoked is that of Aunt Helen, his mother’s sister, who passed away when he was about 7. It seems that her death affected him profoundly, that he even had to see a psychiatrist and miss 1 year of school – and for most of the book, he mentions her wistfully, with affection. You never really know there’s something else lurking underneath these memories, something that still has a hold on him, until it finally breaks him down.

Of course, it’s not all drama: there’s school, and dances, and parties; music and movies and books – normal high school stuff…and I got a bit nostalgic, even if my own high school experience is nothing alike. Anyways, I kept picturing a Arrested Development-era Michael Cera as Charlie (although he seems like the pretty standard choice for “awkward teen” lately) until it hit me that he’s probably a lot more like the kid from Freaks & Geeks. But the actual movie they’re making (Stephen Chbosky is apparently going to direct) is with Emma Watson as Sam and Logan Lerman as Charlie.

~ by ameer on October 30, 2010.

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