The Perks of Being a Wallflower
I did not proofread this, so if it’s rough, my apologies.
I’m one those people who always reads the book before I see the movie, unless I don’t know the movie was a film adaptation of a book. (Though, over Christmas break, a friend of mine and I continued our reoccurring argument came up that reading a book before seeing the movie ruins the movie. You could probably guess that I’m on Team Gotta Read The Book, but I see his point. Reading the book before you see the movie gives you certain expectations that more times than not aren’t always lived up to, so I wouldn’t say never read the book first. However, I think I’m going to try reading the book after I see the movie next time. Beautiful Creatures is coming out pretty soon and shows promise.) So, when I heard that Perks was being released, I bought the nookbook and I read it.
If you haven’t read The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, I won’t say that you’re missing out. Not to say that it’s a bad book. (I don’t think I actually rated it on Goodreads, but if I would have, I probably would have given it 3.5 out of 5 stars.) Perks is a heavy book, and while I’ve been feeling like most of the books I’ve recently read have been disappointing, all having the same base plot (boy meets girl; girl meets boy, all the in between, yadda yadda yadda), Perks doesn’t fall into that category.
Besides having some fantastic quotes, Perks flirts with a range of controversial issues such as depression, physical abuse, pregnancy and abortion, infidelity, mental and emotional breakdowns, homosexuality, personal acceptance, molestation, relationships, and the trials and tribulations of being a teenager in high school. On the other hand, there are some good themes, like self-discovery, communication, friendship, and finding people who accept you for who you are. Even though the book was relatively short (it can’t be more than 220 pages), it’s very deep and well written. With this detailed list of heavy topics laid out for you, it might make you think that Chbosky just shoves it all in your face, but as I was reading the book, I was taking in all that was happening but didn’t realize all that had happened until after I had finished the book.
The reason I chose to write about this is because I watched the movie a few weeks ago and it was good. It was, what I consider to be, a good film adaptation and had a pretty epic all star cast that wasn’t all in your face. (For example, Valentine’s Day with Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper, Kathy Bates, Anne Hathaway, George Lopez, etc.) The book is written in the letter format, with Charlie, the main character (portrayed by Logan Lerman) writing letters to his friend, who Charlie places in real life settings (like at party), but who is never identified. Charlie starts his story off basically saying that he is both happy and sad at the same time at the same time, and he’s trying to figure out how that could be. It’s the summer before Charlie is to start his freshmen year of high school; his best friend has recently committed suicide, and he’s trying to figure out his life and run away from it at the same time.
Charlie begins high school. The people he was friends with in middle school have moved on, and Charlie’s left alone. His older sister (Nina Dobrev) has a new boyfriend and doesn’t want to be seen with her kid brother, so Charlie is left to navigate the waters of high school on his own. That is until he meets Nothing, also known as Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his stepsister Sam (Emma Watson), two seniors looking to make the most of their senior year. Patrick and Sam take Charlie under their wings, introducing him to their friends, helping him experiences many firsts—his first kiss, accidentally getting him high, taking him to his first Rocky Horror Picture Show, etc.—eventually dubbing him a wallflower, Patrick saying to him, “You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.”
As Charlie’s relationship with Sam and Patrick grows, he develops feelings for Sam who is in a relationship with an older guy. Not knowing what to do, Charlie starts dating Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman), but during a game of truth or dare, when dared to kiss the prettiest girl in the room, he kisses Sam instead of Mary Elizabeth causing some tension between him and the group.
Even after repeatedly apologizing, Charlie is told to lay low while this blows over. Thrust out on his own again, Charlie starts spiraling. Forced back into the experiences of the beginning of his freshmen year—eating lunch alone with his only friend being his English teacher, Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd)—Charlie starts going through the motions of his everyday life without really acknowledging what’s going on. Until one day, a fight breaks out between Patrick and a few members of the football team. Not realizing what he’s doing, Charlie intervenes, knocking one of the football players out and breaking one’s nose. Later that day, Sam approaches Charlie and thanks him for saving her stepbrother.
As Charlie and his friends catch up, he learns that Sam has broken up with her boyfriend, who had been cheating on her, and as the end of the school year approaches, it begins to dawn on Charlie that all of his friends and his sister will be graduating and going to school. After graduation, but before Sam leaves for college, Charlie and Sam have an intimate encounter, in which Sam triggers a memory Charlie, at that moment, can’t comprehend. He later comes to realize that his Aunt Helen has molested him as child. Not being able to handle that, Charlie mentally shuts down and is hospitalized for about two months. During his stay in the hospital, Charlie had a lot of time to talk and reflect on things that had happened to him as well as the things he thought and felt. He eventually came to the conclusion that “it’s okay to feel things. And be who you are about them.”
I wrote this piece in part because I enjoyed the book and the movie, but also because I think The Perks of Being a Wallflower portrays the turbulence of adolescence pretty accurately.
Adolescence is this transitory stage in a person’s life where they’re going though physical, social, emotional, and mental changes as well as trying to figure out who they are in relation to who society is telling them they need to be. Often times, as teens are going through these changes, they’re not taught an appropriate way to express themselves, sometimes resulting in extreme situations, like Charlie and his friend Michael. Granted, from an outsider’s perspective, Charlie’s situation may seem a little exaggerated, but not living Charlie’s life, I don’t think it’s fair to jump to that conclusion. Despite how much an open book someone may be, there’s always a message behind the words that may not be caught.
Personal experiences have taught be me to always be kind, even when I may not want to be, because everyone is fighting a battle that I know nothing about or has a story that would probably break my heart. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will take you from standing on the fringes of life to seeing what it looks like from the dance floor.