The Perks of being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky

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I read Chobsky’s The Perks of being a Wallflower a few weeks ago. It’s a book that is quite popular with my students at the moment. There really is something very appealing about it. I have yet to see the movie (I’m a typical read-the-book-first kinda gal) but from what I’ve heard it’s good.

The story is made up of letters written by Charlie – a troubled teenager who is learning to ‘participate’ in life. He writes the letters to an unknown and unspecified recipient and as the reader you become that recipient which is a cool concept.

For whatever reason the novel reminds me of the classic 80s movies like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles that deal with high school kids and some of the issues and situations that they face.

The first letter gives us some background information including that Charlie’s best friend has committed suicide. Charlie describes his reactions to the flimsy explanations of the adults. We also find out that Charlie’s aunt died on his birthday and that he blames himself. So from the start you know that this novel is dealing with some tough issues linking death, depression, suicide and grief.

Some other issues dealt with are homosexuality, drugs, alcohol, child abuse, trauma, abusive relationships, sexuality, mental illness and teenage pregnancy. I know it sounds like a lot of heavy content for a novel aimed at teenagers, however the reality is that this is what young people do have to deal with and navigate through.

Two things that I really like about this novel are the narrative voice and the references to classic novels. The narrative voice (Charlie) is unfailingly innocent. Despite all the experiences and exposure he has to less than wholesome aspects of life, he writes the letters with a frankness that is unassuming and often childlike (it’s hard to explain so you’ll just have to read it! )Throughout the letters Charlie reports on various books he has been reading from his English teacher. From Catcher in the Rye to To Kill a Mocking bird he devours a number of classics. You can read a list of them here. I love how he states that every book is his favourite book when he has just finished it. Nothing like a book-lover as the main character in a book!

The plot mainly follows Charlie’s journey of making sense of a number of things in his life. The content might be serious but the tone is often light and there are a lot of fun moments. There’s a bit of romantic tension and a strong focus on friendships. There were a few moments where I felt like I had stepped back into high school. But it wasn’t only my own experiences I was reminded of. Rather, I was stepping into a side of high school that I have always been aware of but not necessarily experienced first hand. I think that is a powerful thing for a book to do.

I wouldn’t recommend this to younger readers, but for about ages 15 or 16 and up this is a fantastic read. I would definitely recommend it. It is reflective, thought provoking and well written. All things a book should be.

My rating: 4/5

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