The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Novel
Updated: Mar 10
If you may remember my earliest of reviews, I did mention that some of my favorite books, including The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird, are usually in what I'd describe as the "high school literature pantheon." What I mean is that those classic novels have been most commonly taught in the high school curriculum, thus they left such an impression and legacy behind. A couple months ago, I read a book that I feel deserves to snuggly belong in such a pantheon as this. The book I have in mind is Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
So what's the story? Well, it's about a boy named Charlie, and in the early 1990s, he was documenting what was going on in his life by writing letters as anonymously as possible to an unknown reader. For all we know, he could've written those letters to any of us. In his letters, he admitted that he was afraid of going to high school, especially after Michael, a good friend of his, shot himself with a pistol. Fortunately, things started to look up to Charlie when he made good friends with step-siblings Patrick and Sam; they hung out together, smoked together, and shared tastes in certain things. However, this was just the tip of the iceberg, and the iceberg was all the things that would've come with high school life. Not making things easier was the fact that Charlie was mostly an observer and wanted to put the needs and wants of anyone ahead of his, even if it included unintended acts of infidelity, hence his status as the 'wallflower'.
The first thing that impressed me about the story was how the writing styles improved with each letter. At first, they started off a little choppy and grammatically incorrect, but as the story went on, Charlie told his story much clearer and with a more defined sense of literary expression. It kind of reminded me of how our own writing styles would have improved at some point, especially at school.
Speaking of which; the next thing I love about it is that everything that Charlie had to say about his high school life was written in ways that took me, as the reader, back to my high school days. Why? Because there’s a strong likelihood that whatever occurred in the book, everyone may have done or had themselves when they were in high school. They could have had a high school sweetheart. They could have run wild with friends and did their own thing. They could have gone to parties. Heck, they could even have had their own favorite teacher. And Charlie expressed his in ways that were in-depth and instantly relatable.
The characters themselves were very interesting, some of them coming off with a unique background. Charlie himself was a compassionate, sentimental, conflicted guy who seemed to have a lot on his mind with each passing day. From family life to school life, he always shared his take on what was happening in front of him as he either expressed his wishes for other people’s welfare or took them in with profound uncertainty. This ended up making his journey through his first year of high school that much more gripping; with Charlie as uncertain about things as he was prone to be, I, the reader, wanted to see things open up for Charlie or to see him try to handle tough situations as thoroughly and carefully as possible.
Patrick was a fun guy. One of Charlie’s new best friends, he was good at cracking jokes and expressing a kind-of compassionate side that Charlie related to. What added to his interest factor, however, was the fact that he was gay and had a secret relationship with the school jock, Brad. Being that this was the early 90s, this would’ve landed him in hot water, so it was a bit nerve-racking to see him try to work out his innermost desires while also being aware of the stakes that came with it.
Sam, Charlie’s crush and other best friend, was a tricky case. She was a sweet, cheery, and sympathetic girl, and besides her being pretty, it was no wonder Charlie had the hots for her; she was really easy to like. However, besides a few key details about her background, I frankly don’t remember her being that interesting in her own right. Maybe the one reason I can think of as to why she was so memorable might be how much Charlie glorified her as he was recapping his adventures. I don’t know, maybe I’ll have to read this again sometime just to get a better understanding of it. But I will say that I’ll let it slide since this was all written from Charlie’s perspective, and since I went through such similar fascinations as Charlie did, I absolutely can’t complain.
I could go on about the other characters forever, but for the sake of simplicity, here’s what I thought about the other characters in the story:
Bill, Charlie’s English teacher, was a cool guy. He sure had a good taste in literature, and not only did he do the right thing to pass it on to Charlie, but his understanding makes you wish he could be your pal.
Charlie’s sister, though unnamed, was very interesting. She was snobbish in some spots, but when she’s in a bad position, you really would’ve felt bad for her and her struggles.
Mary Elizabeth was also a handful. Like Charlie, you also started to feel irritated by what she’s prone to do, but then wonder later on if it’s worth getting that riled up about her once you know her more.
Aunt Helen, from the little I managed to learn about her, seemed like a cool lady who passed away too soon. As I went further into the story, though, I found out that there was more to her than met the eye. I won't say what, you just have to read it for yourself to find out.
Another thing I enjoyed immensely about the story is that it never used any of the generic high school clichés. The first time you think of the story, you think it’d be about some scrawny kid who was the underdog and try to fit into high school. But instead, it portrayed Charlie as being conflicted about certain things, and he never once felt like an underdog; he was just being him. And when he brought up that Craig, a guy who attended school, started going out with Sam, you’d expect a love triangle to brew about between them. But that never happened. Charlie simply hoped for the best for Sam as if nothing was taken away from him in this scenario. And finally, as Brad was brought up further in the story, you’d fear that he would’ve been the school bully. But instead, you’d have felt empathy for him as he, since he was going out with Patrick, was revealed to be gay himself. And that the bad things he did, it was all out of confusion over the dilemmas he had to face.
This all added up to a certain uniqueness the story had that set it apart from most other stories about high school life. It may have had familiar themes about it, but the story’s execution was what did the trick. And it all boiled down to the characters, the situations, and their actions.
As a matter of fact, I read from somewhere that Chbosky, in his commentary of the movie, stated that no one in high school was a bad guy; they just had problems to deal with and they just could not have found healthier ways to express themselves. And that is so true. Anyone in high school could be going through the same tribulations the characters in Wallflower did, but may not have been given help over how to deal with the matter. As a result, it added to the story’s authenticity and, arguably because of it, its mass appeal. The presentation that Wallflower gave of high school life managed to hit all the right notes without feeling manipulative, and the result is a well-crafted recount that may have something for everyone.
Succinct, powerful, relatable, heart-melting, and with just the healthy amount of realism in the mix, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is definitely something to write home about.