You know, before I started reading this book, before I had even opened it and sniffed at the heavenly scent that wafted from its pages, I told myself that I would take my time reading it.
Well, the fact that I’m posting this a mere two days after announcing it you can probably tell that I didn’t listen.
You see, The Perks of Being a Wallflower undermined my resolve by mixing two quite lethal things when it comes to making a book last: firstly, it’s short and secondly it draws you in without you even noticing.
Predominantly, it’s a coming of age story, a wonderful coming of age story told through letters that Charlie writes to his pen-pal. It’s set during his first year of high school.
Of course this is always a scary thing (starting a new school where you might not know anybody) but it’s even more daunting for the main character since he’s still dealing with the suicide of his best friend Michael.
It’s a bit of a lonely time for him, he doesn’t really know anybody and when a bully begins to victimize him Charlie is quick to bring it to a surprising end (using fighting advice his brother gave him).
The only person outside of his family he speaks to is his English teacher Bill and to start off with that’s about the books he gives Charlie for advanced English until eventually Bill tells his student to participate more in life by going to school events such as dances and football games.
It was at one such game where he met Patrick and Sam. Patrick was in Charlie’s shop class but had never spoken to him before and Sam was his step-sister. From then on Charlie wasn’t alone.
They introduced him to the world of drugs and alcohol, parties and relationships. But it’s not all about that.
Charlie tries to be a good guy but he doesn’t always know how to be without someone telling him. He needs someone to give him direction, be it Bill telling him what book to read, Sam telling him how to be a good boyfriend or Patrick telling him how to be a friend.
Of course they’re not always right but he follows them without question. He’s a deeply emotional person and while he often fights it he is prone to giving in to his panic. Whether this is because of what is revealed at the end of the book or because of something deeper I’m not sure, but his journey in overcoming this, in finally realising that he shouldn’t always wait for others to tell him is what makes this special.
Stephen Chbosky could not have produced a better debut novel. You really get to know Charlie. He’s likeable enough as well as sweet and charming, the suicide of his best friend and the death if his aunt Helen have left him with deep scars but he carries on living.
You also get to know Sam and Patrick. Even though they’re just subjects in a letter to an unknown receiver their characters are captured. Patrick, at first doesn’t seem to care about what people think but when the story progresses he’s given much more depth, he’s gay and having trouble with a guy in denial. He treats Charlie like a little brother and seems to care even when Charlie is in the wrong.
Sam is one of the few people who can calm Charlie down when he’s starting to panic. She looks out for him and she’s neither arrogant nor snobby, as romantic interests go in stories this one is actually believable and understandable.
I think that perhaps what makes this book special is its slow progression. Yes some dramatic stuff happens but it’s not overdone. It’s perfectly written and the characters are perfectly flawed as well as perfectly developed. The end is not an end, it highlights that this is just a snippet of the boy’s life. It’s a significant moment for sure, but perhaps not the most important of his life. There is so much more ahead of him, his future is uncertain as it should be at that age, and life will be continuing as usual.
Even though we don’t know what happens to him afterwards it leaves you glad that you got to share a part if his life, as Charlie says it’s nice to think that so many other people read the same book, that you got to share something with them too.
Don’t forget to check out the six word review in the Book List.