Book Review: Perks of Being a Wallflower

Sarah Pine, Contributor

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, originally published in 1999, is an epistolary style novel written by Stephen Chbosky; it tells of sixteen year old Charlie’s experiences as a Freshman in high school. Recently, in 2012, the novel was adapted into a movie, and in the twenty anniversary copy of the book, Chbosky even includes a new letter from Charlie, told from his point of view as an adult.

Being a classic coming of age story, the book allows the reader to experience the development of Charlie’s life through his letters. In them, Charlie reflects on his encounters with loss, bullying, making friends, going to parties, dating, and drugs. The novel begins with Charlie recounting of the loss of his Aunt Helen when he was just seven years old, and later, the loss of his friend Michael to suicide in their last year of Middle School. Charlie enters high school without friends, but quickly forms a relationship with his English teacher, Bill. Bill, who pushes Charlie to not only read and write, encourages Charlie to “participate” in highschool, leading Charlie to attend a football game. At the game, Charlie recognizes a senior, Patrick, in the stands, and sits with him. This sparks a new friendship with Patrick and his step-sister Sam, who Charlie develops an intense crush on. Patrick and Sam act as Charlie’s gateway into high school life, introducing him to parties, a stable friend group, and good music. Throughout the rest of the novel, the reader sees Charlie do drugs for the first time, enter a relationship he doesn’t want to take part in, grapple with the loss of his aunt, and at the end, a shocking twist is revealed, leaving Charlie broken and confused. 

From the first pages of the novel, Charlie is established as an innocent archetype. His letters are extremely honest, and he often questions his education and his experiences. Chbosky does a great job of forming a character who the reader can not only relate to, but also want to shelter from the dangerous and emotionally damaging experiences that he has. Personally, I felt this instinct where I wanted to protect Charlie at all costs, so being able to see him grow up and experience his teenage years created an emotional bond between us that I haven’t experienced when reading other novels. Often, Charlie’s innocence overshadowed his common sense, and he was very blunt and awkward as he navigated his new relationships. This added a lot of complexity to Charlie’s character, as it was sometimes difficult to sympathize with his brutally honest actions. Simultaneously, as the book continues, more is revealed about Charlie’s life, and more of the cracks in his family situation and past experiences are revealed, making sense of Charlie’s odd behavior. The novel is also extremely fun, featuring pop culture references such as the Rocky Horror Picture Show and nostalgic music from The Smiths and The Beatles. Despite the novel’s age, it is still extremely relevant and relatable, effectively capturing the spirit of adolescence. I was able to read this book in only a few days, and was enthralled the entire time. Chbosky does a great job of invoking both reactions from the reader; there were certain scenes that had me audibly and/or visibly reacting as I read. I laughed, I cried, and by the end, I was very invested in Charlie’s story. The novel not only explores the classic tribulations of high school life, but it also touches on very intense subjects. Through its account of Charlie’s very real and difficult circumstances, the novel subtly, but effectively, recounts very traumatic events, but does so without being too sensitive about them. 

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book. It was an easy read, and in my opinion, is a very important novel for all high schoolers to read. Also, it has often been compared to Catcher in the Rye, and although I can’t attest to that because I could only get through the first one hundred pages of Salinger’s novel, I can say that this book effectively creates a character with the same sincere nature as Holden Caufield, but in a much more compelling way. So, if you’re looking for an unofficial classic, this would be a great choice.