by Charlotte Force
Author: Stephen Chbosky
Genre: Teen Fiction, Slice of Life, Romance, Teenage Angst, Epistolary Novel
“So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we'll never know most of them. But even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.”
It’s the very first day of high school. Charlie is terrified. His older brother has gone off to college. His sister, a senior, has made it very clear that she is not going to babysit him. He hasn’t got many friends… in fact, he hasn’t got any, until his English teacher offers to be his friend, but as Charlie puts it: “If my English teacher is the only friend I make today, that’ll be sorta depressing."
Charlie sees this. He sees the people he used to be friends with and sees what has changed them and wonders if they’ll continue to change. Hewonders about his parents’ lives, he wonders about everyone. He sees one of his classmate’s dismay at being called “Nobody” when everyone else just carries on with the joke. He sees, he sees, he wonders. But Charlie doesn’t really “say”.
Not until he gets home, and writes letters to an unknown recipient. The person that “could have hooked up with that one person at that party that one time but didn’t”, whom Charlie says reassures him in that small act that there are okay people in the world. He recounts his experiences with first love, lust, drugs, friendship, fighting, and most importantly, “participating”. This compilation of letters makes up The Perks of Being a Wallflower, one of the most heart-wrenchingly honest accounts of what it’s like to see and not say; the tumultuous first year of high school of a wallflower.
A short while after reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I saw in an interview that Stephen Cbosky, the author, received a fan letter once saying “The first time I ever felt loved was when I read this book”.
I can’t say I’m unloved, so I can’t say that’s entirely true in my case. I also can’t say I have had as negative (and psychedelic) experiences as Charlie, so I can’t say I completely relate to the character himself. Yet, as I received Charlie’s letters in the pages of Chbosky’s novel (the summer before my own freshman year) I felt truly and completely understood, amazingly enough, by a book. The way Charlie describes his emotions when addressing the reader described some of my own emotions so well that is was actually a comfort to read. Teenagers often feel lonely in their experiences and emotions, and Charlie is a reassuring proof to everyone that reads his letters that they are, in fact, not alone. That’s what makes The Perks of Being a Wallflower one of the most influential books for teenagers of our generation; it acts as an infallibly honest and understanding companion for anyone who needs it. If you’re in the market for such a companion - a story of self-discovery, teenage angst and self-love, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the book for you.