Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (1999)

Two days ago, I finally decided to read The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.

I’d been meaning to read it for ages and I finally decided to get in before the film comes out (claiming bragging rights over the new fans, naturally). It’s quite a short book – I read it an an afternoon. Nonetheless, I have many things to say about it and most of them are good.

This book isn’t exactly recent.  It’s been around since 1999 – the year I started school, incidentally.  God, does that make me sound awfully young? I suppose it’s as good an excuse as any to justify my jumping on the Perks bandwagon so late in the piece. People have been recommending this book to me for years.  I was a little reluctant to start it for a few reasons.  As always, laziness was one, its diminutive size was another.  On principle, I prefer the price of books to reflect their size and considering Perks is practically a pamphlet compared to the last novel I read, I forked out my cash with  considerable grumbling.  But as they always say, quality over quantity.  What do I earn money for anyway, if not to fill my shelves with beautiful books?  However, the main reason I was sceptical about Perks is because it’s such a big favourite   That doesn’t make a lot of sense, right? I’ll explain.

Perks is described as a coming of age tale, which is perfectly accurate.  But a lot of the ‘coming of age tales’ you encounter today, particularly ones that teens rave about, are exactly the same.  You know, a social outcast finds a group oddballs to belong with.  They enjoy smoking pot and listening to alternative music.  Something tragic happens.  Something poignant happens.  The end.

The reason why I pointed out that this book has been around for a while is that I’m guessing that it came about before the genre was saturated with identical stories about sex, drugs and teen angst.  I’m not sure of course,  because I was barely literate when this book was first published.  Reading it now, I recalled many books of a similar vein, particularly in the young adult genre.  This is by no means a criticism of Perks though.  It pre-exists many of the novels I read, and while it deals with familiar ideas, it’s nothing if not fresh and interesting.  So without further ado, here’s my top three reasons to read The Perks of Being a a Wallflower.

1. It’s short and sweet

As I said, I knocked this one over in an afternoon.  It’s not that long and it’s surprisingly readable, which is always nice.  The book revolves around the main character’s observations on his world and the people in it, written in the form of letters that he writes to an anonymous friend over his first year of high school (US system).  While the whole letter/diary format thing can be a bit of a tun off for some people, I think it works really well for Chbosky.  It allows him to focus on key time periods and skim over others – maintaining a good pace.  This is something that I think is really important, given that Perks is more character driven than plot driven.  Also, very early on Chbosky subtly creates this sense that something is imminent, that the main character is standing on a precipice, inches from tumbling over. I don’t know how to describe it exactly, but it hooks you in.

2. The lead

Our main character is fifteen year old Charlie.  He’s unusual in many ways and frustrating at times, but you get the sense that this is all intentional.  The thing about Charlie is that he has this strangely innocent and simple way of looking at the world.  He’s incredibly naive, almost childlike at times, but also intelligent beyond his years.  The result is this totally unfiltered, totally honest stream of thought.  I’ve met a handful of people who do this – people who don’t worry about how other people see them, who don’t seem to be aware of all the little self-conscious things that dictate what we say and what we don’t say.  The funny thing is, they often say exactly what everyone else is thinking but isn’t prepared to admit to.  All in all, Charlie is a such an original creation, which is saying something nowadays.

3. Lovely, honest writing

Chbosky’s style isn’t overly literary (it’s written from the POV of a fifteen year old boy) but it’s still lovely to read and so many things are perfectly expressed.  It’s plain and honest and a lot of the time I found myself agreeing with everything that was being said.  As I said earlier, Charlie captures little things that we think but don’t say.  You  get so many of those special  ‘Oh! So it’s not just me’ moments in this book.  There are no screaming clichés, it’s just a very natural, unaffected story.

So anyway, I’ll leave you with a little excerpt as always.  Next up on my holiday reading list is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Another film adaptation coming out soon. More superiority to claim.

“I think that if I ever have kids, and they are upset, I won’t tell them that people are starving in China or anything like that because it wouldn’t change the fact that they were upset. And even if somebody else has it much worse, that doesn’t really change the fact that you have what you have.”

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2 thoughts on “Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

  1. I also did a book review on The Perks of a Wallflower and The Great Gatsby (in that order). Hahaha! What a fascinating coincidence. I read yours and totally compared notes. Great blog!

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