(This book review is about 12 years overdue)
Let’s set the record straight: this blog post is a review of the book, not the recently released film. However, a comparison review of the film will be written and published in the extremely near future.
So, let’s get started.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky received mixed reviews when it was first published in 1999 (check out the old Kirkus Review and Publisher’s Weekly reviews to get a feel for the arguments). Some dubbed the main character, Charlie, a Holden Caulfield rip-off, others felt Perks was simplistic but engaging for younger readers, and still others identified Charlie and his friends as memorable characters. Regardless, enough readers rooted for Perks in 1999…and now it is here to stay.
Maybe its because the novel is rife with early 90’s music and cultural references, but I save a soft spot for Perks.
The book is a collection of letters that “Charlie” writes anonymously to an unknown older student at the same high school. In the first letter Charlie reveals that he must enter high school following the suicide of his best (and only) friend. Fortunately, Charlie’s isolation does not last forever: enter best friends (and step-siblings) Patrick and Sam. Patrick is the former “popular” currently “less popular since coming-out” guy, while Sam is the unattainable but damaged object of Charlie’s love. The letters follow Charlie through adventures (sometimes disastrous misadventures) with his new friends, as well as his internal struggles with anxiety, depression and a deeply buried secret.
Why did this book become a phenomenon that has lasted for over 12 years? I don’t think its necessarily the plot or the concept of the story, but the characters and Charlie’s plainly written and absolutely honest narrative.
I disagree with the assumption that Perks is easily liked by teenagers. I think many people dislike this book, and rightfully so. They don’t relate to Charlie or his friends, and they don’t enjoy the unconventional narrative or writing style. Despite this, I remember falling hook, line and sinker for the book the first time I read Perks, and I have since recommended it to countless individuals. Just as I am recommending it to you readers. Give it a try: I’m interested to hear what you think. Even if you disagree with your neighborhood librarian.
-Signing off, Jenny Barrows (who sometimes pauses to read the simpler narratives in life)