Book review: Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being A Wallflower”

I couldn’t find a book trailer of “Perks” that I liked.

I bought my copy of “The Perks of Being A Wallflower” last year, mainly because everybody and their closest relation were telling me that it was such a great book that would totally change my life.

However, I never really got around to reading it until a couple of days ago, and it was only really spurred on by the release of the book’s movie adaptation. And partly by that photoshoot from Out Magazine.

So. Did “The Perks of Being A Wallflower” prove to be a life-changing experience for me? Or would I have been better off not picking up this book in the first place?

“The Perks of Being A Wallflower” tells the story of Charlie, a precocious, sensitive, and introverted teen about to start his first year of high school. He’s writing to an unidentified person throughout the book, pretty much treating him as a confessional of sorts as he tries to finish his first year of high school in one piece.

Throughout the course of these letters, we get to see the many people that Charlie gets to interact with as he slowly gets introduced to the ins and out of high school and adolescent life. There’s Sam and Patrick, step-siblings who immediately become Charlie’s closest friends; Bill, a new teacher who sees Charlie’s potential and tries to nurture it by exposing him to a diverse set of books; and a host of other characters that float in and out of the narrative and open up Charlie’s mind to new experiences and emotions.

As Charlie begins to open up more and more through the year, it soon becomes clear that there is something in his past that has made him into the introvert that he was at the beginning of the novel. Will Charlie be strong enough to face the demons of his past? Or will he break under the intensity of its revelation?

Anybody who follows me on my Goodreads account know that I started out impressed by “Perks”. There’s a lot of harrowing stuff that goes on in the book — domestic abuse, drug use, rape, and abortions — and Charlie’s matter-of-fact narration is quite effective in heightening the heartbreak and the horror inherent in situations like these.

Chbosky is also adept at conjuring up that particular atmosphere one only seems to experience right in the throes of adolescence. That feeling of “being infinite” while listening to a perfect song while on a drive with friends is certainly something most of us can remember, and when he write about the intensity with which these teenage characters go through love and lust and longing it rings true for the most part.

However, I just couldn’t get into “Perks” as much as I thought I would. I’m a sucker for coming-of-age books and films, but there was just a variety of things that prevented me for being full onboard the “Perks” adoration train.

For one, Charlie’s precociousness and sensitivity kind of becomes grating halfway through the book. I think I started rolling my eyes somewhere around the part where Charlie gives everybody perfect Christmas presents and everybody is in awe of him and then he ends up crying.

I also had really mixed feelings about the twist that happens near the end of the novel. While it explained a lot of the things that Chbosky intimated throughout the book, I couldn’t help but feel that revealing this bit about Charlie’s past in this manner felt like a cheap trick, something along the lines of Nicholas Sparks killing off the love interest just to make things extra sappy.

But there’s also no denying the fact that this book means a lot to a lot of people, and I think part of the reason why I didn’t connect with it as much as others have is the fact that I’m reading “Perks” quite some time after my own adolescence. I can easily imagine teenagers getting into this book as much as I got into “The Catcher in the Rye” when I was in high school, and putting things into that context kind of explains the importance that “Perks” has in so many young people’s lives. Perhaps the only thing that’s wrong with it is that it wasn’t exactly written with me — the here and now me rather than the adolescent one — in mind.

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2 thoughts on “Book review: Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being A Wallflower””

  1. the movie was very good though. it made me cry. i think the author served as both director and screenwriter, if i’m not mistaken.

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