Monday, September 3, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky)

This is not the first time I read Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It's my third, and I don't think the power of the book has diminished even slightly. It is one of my favorite books, after all.

Our narrator goes under the assumed named Charlie, and the premise is that we are reading these letters that "Charlie" has written us about his life and the goings-on therein. As the novel opens, he's just about to start his freshman year of high school, and he's kind of a loner and a weirdo. One of his friends recently committed suicide and it did not affect him well. Fortunately, Charlie makes friends in older, cooler seniors Sam and Patrick, two stepsiblings who are living the alternative life.

The rest of the book chronicles Charlie's year, and manages to hit on a lot of big issues: smoking, drinking, drugs, homosexuality, suicide, abortion and abuse, mainly. The book received some backlash for being an "issue conglomerate", i.e. a book that fills itself with hot-button issues to make a splash. I never understood that criticism, because the presence of these issues never feels forced or unnatural.

One of the things I like best about the book is the emotions it evokes. Very rarely do books make me feel anything one way or the other, but The Perks of Being a Wallflower is able to put me in a funk for days afterward. It's not a good feeling--it's something akin to the loneliness I feel after watching The Social Network, but the fact that these feelings are so strong means I love the book. It's interesting to watch my understanding of the book change each time I read it, too. It's not like a mystery novel where the second read-through can be appreciated for seeing the way the author set things up, but rather the way I view the book after different times in my life. I know that no two read-throughs will warrant the same thoughts from me and I love that.

It's not a perfect book; sometimes Charlie is really pretentious, saying things like "And in that moment, I swear we were infinite", which is something that a lot of people like to quote from the book. In fact, the book can sometimes just come across as pretentious, but I can never tell if it's intentional. Nonetheless, I am annoyed by it. Charlie can also be really frustrating as a person, and while it gets on my nerves, it's clear that this is intentional because it allows Sam to give Charlie a lecture at the end of the book about how important it is to find a balance between active and passive in your life. Blah.

Annoying portions aside, Chbosky's book is a fine one, one that can be appreciated by anybody for its observations on life and ability to channel raw emotion in the reader.

My rating: 5/5
The Perks of Being a Wallflower on Goodreads
See what I've been reading lately!

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