Stephen Chbosky’s book ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’ follows sixteen year old Charlie as he navigates his way through high school after having lost his friend to suicide. It explores themes such as suicide, rape, drug use, molestation, homosexuality and abortion to name a few, but is at its core a story about a boy who through the connections he makes to other people finally is able to uncover things about his past that he has repressed.
I have very mixed feelings about this book. While some parts of the novel were really moving and well written, the book as a whole seemed to try to do too many things at once. When I got to the ending I had lost track of what exactly the book’s main intention was, and as such I didn’t think the payoff made much sense compared to everything that came before it. But let’s address the good parts first.
I really enjoyed the epistolary format. I tend to dislike novels written in letter or diary form, but this time it worked really well. You got the clear idea that Charlie was confiding in someone, and that it didn’t matter who it was. Like Charlie himself writes, there is something more real about sending letters than about writing in a journal because you know someone else is reading it and reacting to it. I also thought it was a nice way to see Charlie’s education as his writing got better and more structured as time went by. This type of novel also gives a clearer feeling that the reader is there as it happens, because the protagonist is not telling a story retrospectively, but one that is always in progression.
The characters I felt were done most justice in the book were Patrick and Sam. To be honest I felt more of a connection to them than to Charlie himself. The most evocative part of the novel was Charlie’s stories about Patrick and his problems with Brad. In a novel that had so many ‘issues’ it wanted to take a stand on, this was the one that worked best for me. I could really feel the desperation and sadness Patrick was dealing with. My favourite scene in the entire book is probably the one where Charlie tells us about the start of Patrick and Brad’s relationship and how Patrick had to be the brave one while also being torn up from the inside. There was something so real about that situation that I really felt for the character.
As for Sam, I thought that she was the most fascinating female character. The impression I got of her was of a strong young woman who knew what she wanted and how to go about getting it. I enjoyed how Charlie was fine with being her friend and loving her from afar, so it bothered me a little when at the end everything that had been established by Sam throughout the novel was changed by her one speech.
When it comes to Charlie himself, I don’t know what to think. The reason for Charlie’s disconnect with the world was that when he was young his aunt molested him. One issue I have with the ending of this book was that I didn’t like how he was just fine with forgiving his aunt. I have never been through anything of the kind, but it seems like something that would take more time than a month to get over.
All that said there were good parts about Charlie’s character. I think Chbosky did a great job with Charlie’s depression, and it felt very real what he was going through. What I enjoyed most, though, was the start of Charlie’s relationship with Sam and Patrick. The image of the three friends just enjoying the night, the music and the friendship was a nice one, and for someone experiencing that for the first time I believe they would want it to last forever. As quotes go, I prefer Bill saying ‘we accept the love we think we deserve’.
As a whole I did enjoy the book enough to read it in one night. It’s short and has parts with enough emotional depth to really affect me, but the ending is flawed and it tries too hard to comment on too many social issues. I look forward to seeing how the movie turns out.