Perks of being a wallflower: Highly recommended
Author: Shephen Chbosky
Published: February 1st, 1999
“He’s a wallflower. You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.”
Perks of being a wallflower is an enticing coming of age novel that depicts common struggles and issues that have been shaping teenage society for decades. The author discusses deep but often underlying themes such as love, family, friendship, passivity, and sadness, in a way in which the reader can either relate to their own lives, or understand easily. I personally found this book showed me a perspective on the life of a teenager I hadn’t previously seen, read about, or experienced, as many of the issues and actions taken by the characters in the book where not things that have happened to me before. This helped me understand the divergence that is often seen between teenage individuals, and how experiences shape the way we think, act, and understand. I greatly enjoyed reading about the experiences of the characters in the story, because the issues and themes discussed were written in an interesting and often over simplified way that was hard to decipher in some parts. This difficulty, however, only made the story more interesting, because it made you want to see things from the perspectives of the characters, which made the book an enticing and interesting read. It was because of this, and the fact it covered alternative themes and issues in teenage society to my own life, that I would highly recommend this to other readers my age.
Perhaps the part of the story that I found the most interesting was how it was written. The author had formatted the book so that it was a collection of letters from the main character, Charlie, to an unnamed source. The whole book is written solely from one perspective, and is only showing the parts of his life that he deems the most important. This allowed the reader to learn more about the character in a very unique way that profoundly opposes the way we would meet each other in modern day society. In real life and in other books, we meet people or characters through snippets of conversation, by how they treat certain people, by surviving or imagining all kinds of different experiences with them. This story just has Charlie telling you the experiences of his day to day life, but takes the time to expand on how these events have affected him emotionally, and how it has affected the way he views things. “I walk around the school hallways and look at the people. I look at the teachers and wonder why they’re here. If they like their jobs. Or us. And I wonder how smart they were when they were fifteen. Not in a mean way. In a curious way. It’s like looking at all the students and wondering who’s had their heart broken that day, and how they are able to cope with having three quizzes and a book report due on top of that. Or wondering who did the heart breaking. And wondering why.” This quote depicts how Charlie used the letters as a way to express how he was feeling to the reader, and allows us to view him in a way we wouldn’t normally see a person. This quote doesn’t show his perspective or experience of his school life, but rather how he always questions seemingly insignificant events that occur inside his school, and how they flow on to affect the world he lives in. His character was interesting to read about, because you start to engage with his constant curiosity. Instead of reading about a character who saved the world, or who fell in love, you get to see inside this characters mind, you get to empathise with his perceptions and emotions, rather than his actions. This helps the reader to gain a more in depth understanding both of Charlie, and the story. I really enjoyed reading these parts because it also allows you to consider how these seemingly insignificant things have impacted our lives, and the lives of those around us, and how it has affected us more than we could ever know or understand. It is uncommon to find a story that expresses the effects of daily events on our daily lives, and gives the reader a new perspective on how these things have affected more than just the people the events belong to. I think that this way of explaining things in a story to the reader is a kind of universal language, that doesn’t need to be adapted for people from different cultures or backgrounds to understand. This is why I would highly recommend this story to a year 12 book club.
Another fascinating question the story poses but doesn’t cover, is whether Charlie is the one who needs saving, or whether Charlie is the one who saves everyone else. The main basis of the book is that Charlie has a teenage life that is harder than most. His social issues become increasingly apparent as the book progresses, as it outlines how hard it is for him to make friends. This means that when he eventually does conform to a group, he finds it difficult to decipher simple things, like whose side to take in a petty argument, or what he feels about the perspectives of each side. He is such a different to character to those that surround him, that this realisation often has a kind of jarring effect. Charlie is a damaged character, a result of a troubled childhood. But even with all of his imperfections, he still changes the lives of others, by bringing a kind of social balance between the different friendships and relationships in which he observed and participated in. One of the most admirable qualities of Charlie is that he was always willing to help his friends. If it were a story of one of his friends, Charlie would likely be a side character that was known for not saying much and not being considered a valued member of the group, but in Charlie’s story, everyone he talked about he valued and admired. “It’s just hard to see a friend hurt this much. Especially when you can’t do anything except ‘be there.’ I just want to make him stop hurting, but I can’t. So I just follow him around whenever he wants to show me his world.” The quote helps to elaborate on his kindness to those that surrounded him, and that when he didn’t understand what he could do to make a friends bad situation good again, he simply kept them company as they fixed it themselves. He stayed out of the way so he didn’t make the problem worse, he assisted in trying to make it better. Charlie helped me understand the importance of kindness, and how being nice to others can also make you feel just as good. Humans are selfish creatures, and don’t often do things unless it will involve personal gain. This is why the authors approach to explaining the way Charlie was nice to people showed the reader that often being kind can have a bigger impact on you than you would think. This would make people more willing to actually take this characteristic and implement it into their lives, especially teenagers who are often very impressionable to this kind of character. This is why I would recommend this book to a year 12 book club, or other readers my age.
Charlie and his story had a bigger impact on my life than I could have imagined. He taught me the importance of getting involved with things you didn’t think you could do, and how this had the potential to make your life something you wanted to remember, rather than something you had to. His character development was astounding to read, as we watched him grow from a shy, timid wallflower, into a budding and growing sunflower. He went from avoiding every social interaction he could and living life through observations, to realising that sometimes the best thing to do was just get in the middle of it all. “Standing on the fringes of life… offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.” This quote describes how living life in your comfort zone all of the time, can often be quite boring. It shows how there comes a point in life where you just have to get in the middle of it all, you have to get well out of your comfort zone to realise that maybe it’s time to broaden your horizons a little. I think this lesson would be important for some teenagers to learn, as it is becoming more common for people to distance themselves from others, because it’s easier to watch everyone else going through all of these struggles than to have to go through them yourself. “Enjoy it. Because it’s happening.” This part of the story showed that you can’t go through life as an observer, and that it’s of utmost importance that you get involved sometimes, no matter how badly you’d rather not.
After finishing the book, I found I had gained a far better understanding of how everything we do shapes who we are. “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 taught me that no matter how many bad decisions we make, we will always have the opportunity to make better ones, and that we don’t have to be stuck inside cycles of confusion and negativity. This can be easily related to today’s society, especially teenagers, because it’s something that I think everyone needs to keep in mind: just because you may have done bad things, or made some bad choices, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Just start making some better decisions with your life. Even though I am surrounded by, and am a teenager, this book helped me understand the reasons behind our actions in a positive way. It showed me how no matter how we act, we will still have the memory of these times for years to come, and whether they’re good or bad, they’re the only ones we’ll get. “Maybe it’s sad that these are now memories. And maybe it’s not” The most important lesson this book has to offer is that nothing is more valuable than getting involved. Growing up may be hard, but we have the choice on whether or not we enjoy it.
“Things change. And friends leave. Life doesn’t stop for anybody.”