Saturday, October 16, 2010
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is an epistolary young adult novel. The protagonist, Charlie, is about to start high school and although he seemingly sits on the sidelines of life, including his own, he obviously feels things deeply and, through Chbosky’s pen, Charlie’s voice shines.
I found myself fighting back tears more than once as Charlie’s experiences unfolded. He builds complicated friendships, goes through things that any parent would hope their child could somehow avoid, and witnesses things that are simply too painful to express. As his own secret comes to light, it is handled with such grace and honesty that the truth of why Charlie feels the way he does, or why he fights not to feel these things preferring to observe rather than experience, is genuine.
I found out about this book through Nikki’s Banned Book Week Challenge when I read this blog post and I wanted to read the book for myself. There’s definitely a lot going on in barely over 200 pages. Suicide, drugs, homosexuality, pregnancy, abuse, date rape, and more. You almost have to wonder if Chbosky didn’t make a list of topics that would get a young adult novel and didn’t just try to cram them all into one novel. Yet somehow none of it is too much. He simply weaves so many different things together that the overall effect is like a painting by Seurat–up close the details are complicated but when looked at from a distance, the overall artistic effect is unarguably perfect. The narrative story has many elements and all of them are essential.
There are also layers of stories and the reader wants to know more about everyone, about the friends who are leaving for college and the ones who have yet to be found in high school, about the Charlie’s siblings and parents, where they’ve been and where they’re going, etc. Every minor character has a story his or her own and you feel that Chbosky knew a lot more about everyone than ever found a place on the page. Above all else, you want to know how the reader of Charlie’s letters felt while reading the book but then somewhere along the way you realize that you yourself are the reader and you have a choice–you can feel for Charlie or wonder about the friend’s response to these lucid letters.
I guess my tears were indicative that I was immersing myself in Charlie’s experiences. And what a joy it was. (And to appreciate how this book has affected others, you really should read the other person's blog about the book. She links to all sorts of interesting things related to this novel.)