Book Review: Perks Of Being A Wallflower

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.

 

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. Isabel Agosto says:

    I did enjoy the book. I felt that a mental disability was implied through out the text, explaining his inability of fully grasping his relationship with his Aunt. I also think his mental break down at the end of the book alludes to mental instability. The empathy and understanding you developed for Patrick and Same demonstrates how Charlie is a wallflower. Though he does experience some growth throughout the text, he still is incapable of integrating into his society. I see where you can become annoyed with how many issues Chbosky piles on, but then again have you read Catcher in the Rye?

    1. Camilla says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I have not read Catcher in the Rye, but since you ask I’m assuming it also deals with several issues? I do think it’s completely manageable to deal with multiple things in one text, but for some reason it just didn’t sit too well with me. That being said, when I’m writing this comment reply I don’t remember exactly the intricacies of the book. I’ve considered going back to read it again, because it’s very possible my expectations colored my enjoyment of it. As for the mental instability, I don’t think I picked up on that as strongly as I should have until the very end, so maybe a second reading would offer some more insight into that as well, helping me to better understand it.

  2. Samuel says:

    Really good review, i enjoyed it and agreed with most of the things you said. I just finished the book in a few days of on and off reading, and i have mixed emotions about it. It took a bit to get used to the format of the book in letter style, but it grew on me. I found that Charlie was an intelligent boy, although not seemingly as he writes, he is intelligent. But i found that i wasn’t reading about a 16 year old, i was reading about someone much younger. He often got teary and cried, and to me, that displayed his constant vulnerability to pressured and uncomfortable.
    I was a little dissapointed that it ended so uprubtly, and i thought that he was going to say who the letters are actually written to, but alas, it’s up to us.
    The characters of Patrick and Sam were very interesting and Chbosky displayed them as two completely different people. I agree that when Charlie found Patrick and Brad kissing, he didn’t batter an eyelid, i partially agree, but me myself being gay, i wouldn’t batter an eyelid either. I began to think whether Charlie was infact gay in this book, after he began to comfort and get even closer to Patrick than ever before.
    Im looking forward to the movie, and Logan Lerman seems to be just the Charlie needed, same with Emma and Ezra being Sam and Patrick.

    I also was a bit confused by the subtleness the characters showed to really serious issues. i.e. taking speed and acid was just whimsically tossed over the shoulder as a ‘same old, same old’ issue. I was just a bit annoyed that his sister’s abortion didn’t get him into any questioning or debating about human rights and what not….

    Overall i really enjoyed the book actually, it had its moments in the sun.

    1. Camilla says:

      Thanks! I really appreciate when people leave feedback like this. It’s been a long time since I read it now, so I’m don’t think I can reply very well to the comment, unfortunately. I will say though that I see what you mean about the kiss. Personally I wouldn’t really think twice in a situation like that either. Also, I also had the sense that Charlie might be gay or questioning for parts of the story, but if he was it wasn’t mentioned.

      I completely agree about them throwing in the random drug use, and the way they just abruptly ended the story. I hope that the ending makes a little more sense in the movie when I watch it, and the casting does look promising.

      1. Samuel says:

        Thanks for the reply. Yeah i agree with you, i reckon the movie is going to simplify some of the themes and situations in the books, especially the ending. They may come up with a completely new ending you never know.

      2. Camilla says:

        That’s true. Movies have been known to change endings from time to time, and some simplification might in this case help. I don’t know. I think I might like it better visually since a lot of my issue was not always understanding Charlie’s thought process.

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