[Review] Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Published: 1 February 1999
Publisher: MTV Books and Pocket Books
Edition: Australian Paperback
Summary: “Standing on the fringes of life… offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor. This haunting novel about the dilemma of passivity vs. passion marks the stunning debut of a provocative new voice in contemporary fiction: The Perks of Being a Wallflower. This is the story of what it’s like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie’s letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.”
It’s difficult to review a book so renowned by readers when I only just heard about it and read it after learning that Emma Watson would be starring in something called The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Perhaps I had never come across it because I went to school and live in Australia. Reading this book was therefore a lesson in American culture and lifestyle as much as it taught me about the adolescence of American teens in the 90s.
I read the book in one sitting and found the prose both difficult and appealing to read. Charlie’s voice strengthens and matures as his experiences with new friends open him to a world of sex, drugs, music and parties. Maybe I matured a bit later but I don’t remember high school being so exciting. I never came across drugs and the parties in Chbosky’s book made me wonder whether all American teens’ parents are trusting enough to be absent from the parties and the drug/alcohol consumption. I don’t want to sound like a prude though so I will move on from those thoughts.
Charlie’s abnormality was apparent to me early on in the text, but I have to say it came as a big shock to find out what exactly had happened in his past to make him so… unusual. If I could have placed a bet I would have put my money on Charlie being autistic. His intelligence, matched with emotional and social immaturity screamed autistic to me, but I was wrong. This was my biggest problem with Perks. I felt that Chbosky spent a lot of time proving to the reader that Charlie was smart to the point of being gifted. By the end of the text I wonder why this was so important. His experiences at a social scale make sense to me because we see the journey this boy goes through as he experiments with love and drugs. As readers we can connect with Charlie as we too remember our first crush, our first love, the time we felt alone, the time we made friends, and when we lied to our parents. The scene between Charlie and his teacher when he goes to visit his teacher’s home was both sweet and awkward. Was is to show the reader that Charlie isn’t a completely hopeless character? That the antisocial kids are smart and that we shouldn’t judge them upfront for being socially awkward? It all felt a little cliche.
I did enjoy reading Perks and I can’t wait to see the movie, if only to see what they change from the book. I guess my reluctance to fully appreciate and love this book has to do with the social differences. It was very American and I am obviously not. But I can appreciate how people in the U.S. believe that Perks ‘speaks to them’ and offers them a glimpse back in time when they were in high school.