5 April 2012
Review 27: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
I really liked this charming and witty book. Charlie is a wonderful character who is carefully drawn to strike that balance between realistic and entertaining enough to base a book around his feelings. Chbosky manages to really capture what it is like to grow up for nearly everyone as well as creating a unique story for Charlie as an individual. Some of the moments are so true and Chbosky captures some beautiful moments, it's a very quotable novel and a really great read.
First Line: 'Dear friend, I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn't try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have.'
The story is told through a series of letters that Charlie sends to an unidentified person as Charlie's way of processing and understanding the things going on around him. And there is a lot going on around him, this book covers an awful lot of''issues' - homosexuality, bullying, sex, drugs, domestic abuse, teenage pregnancy and abortion and rape to mention a few. And it's not even a particularly long book. I personally didn't feel as though Chbosky crammed this in in a particularly unnatural way and whilst most teenagers don't deal with all of these things, a lot of us dealt with several of them through our own experiences or our friends. As the book is written in Charlie's voice they are all dealt with in a rather matter-of-fact way as Charlie encounter and deals with them.
Charlie's narrative voice is really the element of the novel that makes it such a success. Charlie is super intelligent and friendly but socially awkward and inexperienced. I'm not sure wallflower is really an accurate word to describe him and I felt that Chbosky was writing him with low level autism, he definitely exhibits some typically autistic characteristics. Charlie notices things that pass many people by and manages to make some good friends (and also cause some arguments) with his unfailing honesty and unique way of perceiving life. There is a lovely moment where his group of friends are exchanging Christmas presents and the others are moved to a kind of awed silence at the personal and unique gifts Charlie has found them. I really loved the relationship with Charlie has with his family, I like reading about families that are written with some kind of balance between hatred and super closeness. Charlie's family really love eachother but they argue and they have some serious problems to deal with. I particularly enjoyed Charlie's relationship with his sister (and I am super psyched that Nina Dobrev is playing her in the upcoming film). There's a really touching moment with his Dad when they watch the final episode of M*A*S*H together.
The book is both blackly humourous and endlessly quotable and the internet is littered with quotes from it. And I am firmly staying on the bandwagon with many of these are they are lovely. The famous, 'And in that moment, I swear we were infinite' really captures that feeling of limitlessness that you get glimpses of as a teenager, of the possibilities of life before practicalities start weighing you down. There is also an excellent description of how awesome the feeling is when your stomach hurts from laughing so much.
The books primary criticism seems to be that Charlie's experiences and personality aren't really that representative of teenage life but I think that the tone and feelings of the novel are pretty universal. Charlie's experiences are wildly different from my own and yet I found a lot of the feelings very familiar. There does seem to be a pretty direct correlation in the reviews I have read between people who like or don't like The Catcher in the Rye and liking or not liking this. So whilst I wasn't a mildly autistic American boy growing up with older friends and experimenting with drugs, I can totally recognise those brief moments of euphoria and the strength with which you feel everything that comes with being a teenager.