July 10, 2012
I finished this book. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. It’s a little over 170 pages, less than a third of the average Harry Potter novel, but it’s not a fast read. Not for me, anyway. But then again, I think it’s not supposed to be. The book, after all, a coming-of-age classic, covers an entire year of the complexities of growing up told in the eyes of a certain Charlie. And if you read it–as in actually understand it–in less than an hour then (1) either puberty went by in a flash and Charlie’s one lucky 15-year-old; or (2) what a pathetic life he must have led.
The Perks of Being A Wallflower talks about a pseudonymous Charlie, a ninth grader, whose emotional outlet is to write to a “Friend,” someone he’s heard about but hasn’t met personally. In his letters, which make up the entire novel, he shies away from giving information that would reveal his true identity but is remarkably open with details like catching his sister having sex, his gay friend’s homosexual exploits, encounters with acid, and his introduction to masturbation.
“Friend” is described so impersonally it might as well be you, my friend! Charlie, on the other hand, is so naively forthcoming that his stories could only be construed as sincere. As someone whose puberty was relatively tame, I found it quite difficult to relate. I’ve smoked once–a rolled up paper that I lit up; my trials with alcohol were nothing sensational; and anything sex-related was banned from my high school. The Perks of Being A Wallflower isn’t about living vicariously through Charlie’s empirical choices. It’s being able to empathize with him, relearning the consequences of juvenile decisions, reminiscing firsts (kiss, heartbreak, medal, friend), and discovering oneself.
But whether or not you can identify with the effects of LSD, you’ll find that Charlie is easy to get to know. He’s the kind of person you can talk to because he can go from writing about the mundane (how he sat in school today) to deep-rooted philosophical meandering (we are infinite). He’s obviously a ’90s version of Holden Caulfield, but for some strange reason, I kept thinking of Margaret–as in Judy Blume’s Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret. Maybe because they’re both trying so hard to fit in to the point of discomfort. Maybe because of pubescent issues. Maybe because these novels are both banned in high schools.
I particularly enjoyed Sam’s (one of his few senior friends) tutorial on how to treat girls, given before Charlie’s first date with the feminist-but-really-just-feminine Mary Elizabeth.
“She said that with a girl like Mary Elizabeth, you shouldn’t tell her she looks pretty. You should tell her how nice her outfit is because her outfit is her choice whereas her face isn’t. She also said that with some girls, you should do things like open car doors and buy flowers, but with Mary Elizabeth (especially since it’s the Sadie Hawkins’ dance), I shouldn’t do that…” (p. 89)
Really, how many relationships could have been saved had men read this piece of information? For the benefit of Mary Elizabeths and non-Mary Elizabeths alike! But of course even with invaluable advice, Charlie, as expected at this point, screws it up. You must remember, friend, that honesty drives relationships, not some advice from a thoughtful outsider no matter how helpful. And for Charlie to understand this, the consequence was being alone again–just for a short while.
From his first letter of inconsistent punctuation and awkward sentence structure, of having no friends and social adeptness, of not being able to drive and talk to girls, Charlie has had more experience in his freshman year than he probably thought was necessary. But he comes around full circle, because his much older friends leave for college and the only person he can hold on to, his dead aunt, didn’t quite turn out to be as loving as he remembered. I shouldn’t be telling you this because you should really just grab yourself a copy. But don’t read it in school because I’m sure it’s been banned.
He was illuminating, yes. In the end though, after all that revelation and repression, the only thing I thought of was: Here is Charlie, juggling a load of sh*t in high school, whereas the only thing worth mentioning during my freshman year was that my English teacher threw a textbook at one of my classmates.
Whether I’m seriously lucky or sorely deprived is a matter of perspective.
That’s all for now.
Sent from my iPhone