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.
Coming of age stories are a dime a dozen and they almost always involve the awkward outsider. In order to stand out a book dealing with these themes need to be different. The Perks of Being a Wallflower achieves the status of one of the greats.
It’s often compared to Catcher in the Rye. Personally I think it’s an unfair comparison, mainly because I hate Catcher in the Rye. I tried to read it as a teenager and gave up in despair. In contrast I wish I’d read The Perks of Being a Wallflower as a teenager. I’ve no doubt that at those trying ages it would have spoken to me. Now as an adult while I enjoyed it the connection wasn’t as profound.
The characters are all very likeable and identifiable. All the characters are dealing with their own things, and we are shown this. How behind the version of themselves they present to the world, the popular jock, the comedian, the activist, they are all struggling to figure out who they are and comes to terms with that. Chobsky truly gets into the mindset of a teenager. The social pressures, the hormones, the drama, the awkwardness and the general awfulness that period in your life can be. I can honestly say that you couldn’t pay me enough to be 16 again. All this we see through the eyes of Charlie. An outsider and loner, expectionally intelligent and innocent, who observes all this but struggles to participate. His voice is honest and pure.
The number of themes this book deals with is overwhelming. Depression, isolation, drugs, drinking, molestation, domestic abuse, rape, being gay, teenage pregnancy. It’s a potent cocktail of all the issues teenagers face with a few extra thrown in for good measure. There isn’t a teenager in the world who wouldn’t find something to identify with.
I also watched the film. It is one of those rare instances where the film is as good as the book, though they are quite different animals. The film is excellently cast and generally follows the plot, though certain elements of the story including Charile’s underlying problem which he struggles to come to terms with, are more evident in the film. Music is hugely important to the story and almost every episode in the books involves a reference to music. The importance of this comes across more strongly in the film, because of course you can hear the songs. It really adds to the atmosphere of the story.
I would strongly recommend this, either film or book, to anyone. In particular this should be read by every teenager. Here is a coming of ab take you will recognise.