The Perks Of Being A Wallflower – Review

The book is semi-autobiographical; The book published in 1999 by MTV, became one of it’s best selling titles by 2000 and also featured in a lot of banned books lists across America because of it’s portayal of teen sexuality and drug use.

“The world of first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends, the world of sex, drugs and the rocky horror picture show, when all you need is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite…” says the back cover of this intriguing book. While it is true this book contains all that, but by just reading those lines it seems to be one of those typical commercial young adult books. I can tell you, quite strongly that it is not.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is written completely in the epistolary form. i.e. in the form of lettersd. A 9th grade freshman who calls himself Charlie, writes to an anonymous person (presumably the reader). More intimate than a diary, Charlie’s letters are unique, hilarious and devastating.

“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.” says Charlie in his first letter. He is undergoing a tough time, with the loss of his only friend at school Mike, who commits suicide and his favourite family member, his Aunt Helen. His peers think he’s weird, because he gets really emotional and is very silent. Noting his uniqueness, his advanced English teacher, Bill, assigns him some extra reading, asks him to write essays and tells Charlie that he needs to participate more in his life. In his effort to do so, Charlie walks up to a senior he recognizes from Shop Class and introduces himself at a football game. The senior, who is called called Patrick says hello and introduces Charlie to his stepsister Sam, and thus begins Charlie’s friendship with them. Charlie’s letters are filled with his exploits with Sam and Patrick and his insights into life. He tells us about his extended family and how there always seems to be endless rows when his aunts and uncles and great aunts and grandparents meet. He tells us about his Aunt Helen, who died in an accident, when she’d gone out to get him an extra present. Charlie’s writing improves with each letter, and his relationship with Bill grows and he becomes a confidante of sorts instead of being just another teacher.

Perks is one of the best coming of age stories that I’ve read, many people compare it to Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye, but I personally think that Charlie’s emotions are too naive and innocent to be compared to Holden’s unbelievable angst. (the Cather’s protagonist).

Even though this book is set in the 90’s and there is a huge gap between now and then, the kids of then are the kids of now too. Charlie goes through a lot of things in this book. He faces death, he has gay friends, he’s tried pot and smokes and falls in love with a girl he really shouldn’t love. These sorts of things…they’re lessons that last. They apply to kids today as much as they did then. There are a lot of dramatic events throughout the book, but they’ve been very well executed, which is important for a book like this. Charlie’s voice is unique. He is not popular, he is not shy, he’s normal enough to seem real, but stands out among other normal book characters.

I know that I haven’t given you an outline, plotwise, but this is one those books that you just to have to experience. The magic in this lies in living in Charlie’s world. Getting to know what’s going through his head. Finally, I quote these lines from the book, hoping that they’re enough to make you want to read it immediately.

“Just tell me how to be different in a way that makes sense. To make this all go away. And disappear. I know that’s wrong, because it’s my responsibilty, and I know things have to get worse before they get better. I walk around the school hallways and look at the people. I look at the teachers and wonder why they’re here. If they like their jobs. Or us. I wonder how smart they were when they were fifteen. Not in a mean way. In a curious way. It’s like looking at all the students and wondering who’s had their heart broken that day. And how they cope with having three quizes and a book report on top of that. Or wondering who did the heart breaking. And wondering why. Especially since I know that if they went to another school, the person who had their heart broken would have had their heart broken by somebody else, so why does it have to be personal? It’s much easier to not know things sometimes.

Things change and friends leave. And life doesn’t stop for anybody. I wanted to laugh. Or maybe get mad. Or maybe shrug at how strange everybody was, especially me. I think the idea is that every person has to live for his or her own life and than make the choice to share it with other people. You can’t just sit their and put everybody’s lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love. You just can’t. You have to do things. I’m going to do what I want to do. I’m going to be who I really am. And I’m going to figure out what that is. And we could all sit around and wonder and feel bad about each other and blame a lot of people for what they did or didn’t do or what they didn’t know. I don’t know. I guess there could always be someone to blame. It’s just different. Maybe it’s good to put things in perspective, but sometimes, I think that the only perspective is to really be there. Because it’s okay to feel things. I was really there. And that was enough to make me feel infinite. I feel infinite.”

Sadhna Chaturvedula

She reads. She writes. She rambles. She makes to-do lists and promptly never does a single thing in them. She loves Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Radiohead, Nick Drake, The Beatles and is obsessed about music generally. That’s about it actually.