Set in the early 1990s, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an epistolary novel written from the point of view of Charlie. He’s a freshman in high school, struggling to find his way after his best friend commits suicide. Charlie’s just a little bit different. He’s not really what you’d call geeky, just different. His family consider him to be a bit of an oddball but the problem is, so does everyone else at school. This story follows Charlie as he tries to navigate the world of first dates, parties, drugs, sex and mental health.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower really took me by surprise. I’ve heard people rave and rave about it for years but for some reason I’ve never felt hugely driven to read it. This book has sat on my shelf for a few years now, featured in many bookstagram pictures, but never opened until recently. From reading the plot summary, this book probably sounds like a lot of other coming of age dramas out there, but this book really is something special.
It is told from Charlie’s point of view as he writes anonymous letters to a stranger. He has a unique voice; he’s the sort of character that is always on the sidelines, watching, but never participating, thus is very observant. Despite the fact that this book details what it’s like to go through high school, something that most people experience and many people have written about before, the raw and honest narrative make this a refreshing read. Charlie is brutally honest about everything. Literally everything. I assume this is why some people love this story and others hate it. Personally, I found that I could relate to Charlie and his experiences in a way that I’ve never related to a fictional character before. Chbosky puts on paper what most are too afraid to say out loud and I am convinced that what he describes are universal feelings felt by all on some level.
This is a coming of age story that encompasses all aspects of high school troubles – friends, family, sexuality, drugs and mental health. For this reason, this book was placed on many high school reading lists. For the very same reason, this book was banned in other schools. There’s something about Charlie’s story that just felt so very real, which is why so many people can relate to it, adults and teenagers alike. Although some of the themes discussed could be considered ‘delicate’, I don’t think any of them are addressed in a way that should come with a warning.
What I loved about this story is that Charlie went from an oddball with no friends, shunned by his peers, to an oddball with supportive friends. This story isn’t about changing who you are or conforming to fit in, it’s about finding your own people and being accepted for who you are. Charlie isn’t really portrayed as the victim in this story. He is alienated for being different, which is not his fault at all, but at the same time he also often acts in a way that pushes people away. His new friends help him come out of his shell and also teach him to be a better version of himself.
Chbosky manages to write a story that (shows) the raw reality of the mind of a high school student whilst also weaving an interesting story. If you haven’t already read The Perks of Being a Wallflower then I would urge you to do so now! Although aimed at teenagers, this story is meant for anyone who has ever been through high school (so that’s pretty much everyone!), especially those that have ever felt like a wallflower. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a real modern classic and I’d highly recommend it to all.