Author: Stephen Chbosky
Summary: Charlie is a freshman.
And while he's not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it.
Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix 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. But he can't stay on the sideline forever. 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.
Why I read it: I've seen the movie, and LOVED it. So when I did the Bout of Books read-a-thon, I decided to pick up the book since it's pretty short. I ended up only reading 18 pages during the read-a-thon, but I picked it back up and finished it after RYBSAT ended.
BEWARE: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW. LOTS.
Sorry, but there's really no way to talk about what I liked/disliked in this book without discussing the big reveals.
First, let's talk about the characters. Charlie, our main character, is socially awkward to the max. We find out at the end of the book that he was sexually abused as a child by his aunt before she died, something he has blocked from his memory for a long time in order to remember her as his favorite person in the world. So he has major trauma in his background, but there has to be something else going on, right? Whether or not the sexual abuse triggered it, there must be something else that affects his awkwardness, especially since he's repressed those memories for so long and throughout most of the book.
Charlie is constantly being told how smart he is, as referenced in the synopsis when he's described as "intelligent beyond his years." His English teacher even tells him he thinks he could be a great writer when he grows up. But honestly, I never got that impression from him. The entire book is written in letters from Charlie to a "friend," so the entire book is actually in his writing, but his prose never feels poetic or extremely intelligent or beautiful in any way. Half the time he writes in halting, short sentences, and the other half he writes in rambling run-ons. Whenever he learns a new word that he wants to include in his letters, he puts them in quotation marks. We're just never given the evidence to support that Charlie is such a bright kid.
Charlie becomes friends with a group of seniors when he enters his freshman year. These friends include Sam, Patrick, Mary Elizabeth, and Alice. Charlie quickly falls in love with Sam, who is dating an older guy. Sam also reveals that she was sexually abused as a child by her father's friend. Patrick is gay and secretly in a relationship with the closeted quarterback, Brad, whose father eventually finds them together and beats Brad half to death. These friends smoke and do drugs, which leads Charlie to smoke and do drugs. Charlie also routinely interacts with his sister, who goes unnamed. His sister is in a relationship with a guy who has hit her. She discovers she's pregnant and gets Charlie to drive her to the clinic to have an abortion.
This book is so full of issues. Everyone in the book has them, and it seems like an effort to stuff as many controversial topics into the book as humanly possible. Charlie relates an incident at a party in the past in which he witnessed a girl being raped by her boyfriend. Even Charlie's best friend has committed suicide several months before the book begins. It's not enough to write a book about a boy who was traumatized as a child; everyone else in the book has to have deep, serious issues as well.
What did I like about this book? I did like Charlie's journey. It was so rough hearing how much he loved and idolized his aunt as a child, only to eventually remember what she did to him. It's even rougher since I'd already seen the movie, and I knew what was coming. It was difficult to read, but the way Charlie's psyche starts to unfold and reveal those memories throughout the year is done very well.
I enjoyed Sam and Patrick immensely, though they're not as well-developed in the book. We often see their sad sides, Sam especially, but we're rarely treated to their laughter and humor, though Patrick is given the role of comic relief slightly more often.
I get it. I understand why a lot of people like this book. It covers a lot of issues, and I'm sure a lot of people find it relatable. It's got a powerful story, and a catchy format.
I never really connected with any of the characters, even our narrator Charlie. A lot of the bad things that happen to the characters are mentioned in passing, veiled references that could conceivably be missed by a reader who doesn't read between the lines. Even the revelation that Charlie's aunt abused him is revealed when, after a sexual encounter, Charlie has a dream that his aunt Helen was "doing what Sam was doing." Later, when he's in the hospital, Charlie says he "figured out that everything I dreamt about my aunt Helen was true." For an event that really affected Charlie's life thereafter, it is explained in just a few sentences and dealt with in just a few pages of hospital stays and therapy. It feels inauthentic and not truthful to the story. For a boy who throughout the story insisted on describing all his feelings and memories in detail, even the bad ones, it felt unrealistic that he wouldn't want his "friend" to understand what had happened to him. And from a reader's perspective, it really took away from the emotional impact of the situation. It's sickening realization, but not one we're really allowed to feel along with Charlie.
All that being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, which I will be reviewing this week as well. The book was just not to my taste.
Rating: 2.5/5 stars
Tell me: have YOU read The Perks of Being a Wallflower? What were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below!