Jan 18, 2013
January Genreflecting: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky review
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 Charlie 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.
First off, we'll start with my review of the book. Having grown up when YA was just starting to blossom, it's not surprising that I missed this book the first time around. It also wasn't my kind of reading at the time. Well, it's apparently not really my style today. Told in the form of letters to an unknown recipient, we meet the brilliant, if awkward Charlie. The kid brother of the star football player & a boy-obsessed sister, Charlie has never really fit in socially.
While I can relate in a way to this, the book spiraled into something weirder and more dark than I imagined. There is pervasive drug & alcohol abuse, as well and sexual & emotional assault on many characters. I think the core message of the book could have been brought to fruition without all this, but in a way these things are so ingrained in the personalities & lifestyles of the older teens that Charlie hangs out with that I think the book would have been missing something without it.
For such a short book, told in four parts over about 200 pages, it packs a wallop of a punch. The world as we see it is through the distorted perception of Charlie, but the message that he seems to latch onto throughout the book is one of individuality & trusting oneself. The narrative & word choice give a clear picture of just how removed Charlie is from the social interactions he is supposedly taking part in. His incomprehension of other people's actions coupled with his cognitive abilities reminds me of someone with Asperger Syndrome. All of this combined to make a powerful, if sometimes overstated, storyline.
With respect to the genre analysis, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is indeed a prime example of a contemporary life book. While we listen to Charlie describe his emotions & events of his life, what we're really focusing on is how he interacts with his own world. We don't focus in on the fact that he smoked pot & took LSD, we focus in on the fact that in his desperation for acceptance, Charlie was willing to experiment with things outside of his comfort zone. We get to live alongside Charlie as he travels the confusing path that is adolescence. It is especially difficult for him for reasons that he himself is unaware of, so it makes the overarching story (and not the minutia) the most important.
I think this book has successfully explored the teenage experience at a very pivotal time in our nation's collective history. Being published in 1999, but set in 1991-1992, would normally make this book seem "dated" to the majority of the population. While there are definitely some obvious "signs of the times" in the book, it is a timeless novel. I could see it being set anywhere from the 1960's to in the near future. A good contemporary novel has the ability to transcend time in order to be approachable by the audience, present & future. This is evidenced by the fact that this book is just now being made into a major motion picture starring Emma Watson (of Harry Potter fame), Ezra Miller, and Logan Lerman.
What do you think about The Perks of Being a Wallflower? Have you seen the movie? Do you intend to?