This book has been on my to-read list for a while now. Honestly, I should have read it a long time ago when I was in high school (or even middle school), as I’ve come to realize it’s something of a “right of passage” for becoming a teenager. And I can totally agree on that; this book feels very much like something I would have been in love with several years ago if I had read it then (and been able to read more intelligently).
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is about a teenager named Charlie and his experiences during freshman year of high school. He meets friends, he experiments with drugs and alcohol, he reads a lot of books, he falls in love, he ends up in a relationship with someone else and makes a mess in his circle of friends, he says goodbye to the friends that graduate, blah blah blah…
Honestly, this is one of those books that’s hard to describe when someone asks “what’s it about?” It’s about standard YA and high school topics. It’s not going to sound interesting in a one word sentence.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower shines more through Charlie’s observations. He’s, well, a wallflower. He sits on the sidelines and notices things about life. And he writes them down in letters written to an unknown “friend.” The whole book is a series of letters that play the story out as the school year goes on. This, of course, was something that I immediately liked; as you all know, I’m usually a big fan of journal entry styled stories. It also helps the reader keep up and discover things with Charlie, which is good because a big part of being able to like this book is being able to understand Charlie. Or being able to appreciate a character like Charlie. Or… hmm.
I’m not entirely sure how to word this, but you know how everyone really loves or really hates The Catcher in the Rye? I feel that sort of applies here. I think people love this book because of the observations Charlie makes in the same way people love Catcher in the Rye because of what Holden Caulfield has to say. That goes for hating it, too. I mean, Charlie and Holden have two very different personalities and ways of expressing themselves, for sure. But I feel the way readers connect or distance themselves from these characters are very similar.
So that being said, if you’re the kind of person that enjoys finding very relateable passages, quotes, or descriptions while reading, and you’re of the wallflower variety, I think there’s something here for you to enjoy. If not, then… well, it’s a quick read, if you absolutely need to see what it’s all about.
Tastes aside, there are some things about the book that felt a little off. For one, almost every character in the book isn’t particularly interesting. I don’t mean that in a negative way, they just weren’t very memorable by the time I finished. I think part of this has to do with the way the book is written. While there are plenty of conversations and scenes acted out through Charlie’s letters, they sort of take a back seat to Charlie’s chain-of-though narration. It’s sort of like when you’re describing something you and your friends did to someone that doesn’t know them — you’re not going to be able to really show who these people are by recounting a story in and of itself. Something else has to be there, and I think that something else was either a little weak or not there at all.
The book also touches on a lot of issues, like homosexual relationships, domestic abuse, depression, suicide, etc. Which is great, because these are issues people need to learn about and including them in a YA book seems right to me. But it’s also not so great, because that’s all this book manages to do: touches on the issues. A lot is implied, a lot is mentioned, but I think the book may have left more of an impact on me if it really dived into these topics. Again, if I read this book as a teenager or even in my early twenties when I was getting back into reading, I think it would have been the perfect amount of depth to get me thinking. But here at 27, from both a writer and adult reader’s perspective, I think the amount of depth is lacking and hurts the book a little. Not a lot. But enough to mention.
I feel like I’m saying more bad than good about the book, and I’d like to clarify that I did really enjoy my experience. I think there are other, better books that did the same thing out there, but it really was a good read for me. I guess I’m just feeling like a lot of little somethings were missing and I wish I could pinpoint all of them. Did anyone else feel that way too? I dunno. It is a YA book, after all. Maybe I should take it as it is.
It’s just over 200 pages, so it’s not a long or strenuous read. If you’ve never read it before I’d recommend it, with the assumption you’re into books and narrative styles like this one has. And even if you’re not, but you’re still curious, go check it out. It really is a short read.
Anyone that has read it, especially recently, what did you think of it? I’m curious to hear other readers’ thoughts.
Info for my edition of The Perks of Being a Wallflower:
- Published 2012 by MTV Books
- Paperback, 224 pages
- ISBN 978-1-4516-9619-6