Author: Stephen Chbosky
Genre: Young Adult
My Rating: ★★★★ (3.8 stars)
I just finished rereading Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflowerlast week, and I’m glad to say that my opinion on it from the first time I read it didn’t change—it’s still the 90’s classic bildungsroman that has always tugged at my heartstrings.
Trudging in the footsteps of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the book revolves around Charlie, a teenage freshman in 1991. For me he’s a walking contradiction, a different kind of antihero who has an archetypal martyr beneath his façade. Timid, intelligent, insightful yet socially awkward, Charlie often chooses to sit on the sidelines and watch the world do its complicated dance. But one thing he realizes throughout his first year in high school is that although the vantage point from the fringes is delightfully unique, there is nothing quite like getting a little dizzy while spinning in the dance floor with his friends.
In a nutshell, it’s all about learning the dips, the skips, and the twirls of a dance called “growing up.”
The foundation of the book’s main strength is in the format. Charlie tells his story in a collection of letters as intimate as diary entries, which he sends to an anonymous recipient he calls a “friend”. It’s a blatant technique Chbosky used so he could easily draw the readers into Charlie’s world and make them feel like they’re an official part of it. When Chbosky finished laying out the bricks of the foundation, he cements it by choosing a compelling and extremely relatable narrator. The simple combination is effective, because more than once I felt a subtle urge to actually write back to Charlie. I felt like I belong in his world, an anonymous confidante. The book’s main goal, which is to be able to form a link with the readers, is achieved.
The plain writing style lies in stark contrast with the complex and heavy themes the book deals with. Drugs, teenage pregnancy, sexuality, depression, suicide, domestic violence—you name it, Perks has it. At first I thought Chbosky is trying to cram every tough issue that most teens face up to this day, but I soon loosened up when the author realistically tackles each, especially the ones that resonate in Charlie’s psyche. To balance the theme-beam, Charlie’s light and somewhat peculiar voice peppers the narration with the right amount of humor.
I became drawn to Charlie’s fascinating world for a time, magnetized by the family issues, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the music strewn throughout the story (I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs, but his circle of friends resemble mine in some aspects). Once again, as in most young adult books, the complexity of any kind of relationship is touched. I like how Chbosky executed it with sheer simplicity. The ‘twist’ at the end was a loud epiphany bomb for both Charlie and the reader.
While Perks may not be the best coming-of-age book that I’ve read, it certainly earned its special space in my shelf and in my heart. You may want to try it too!