The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

Posted 4 April, 2013 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 24 Comments


Title: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Author: Stephen Chbosky
Published: 1999; Pages: 213
Genre: Fiction (Young Adult)
Rating: 4/5

In Short: As Charlie enters his freshman year of high school he writes to an anonymous friend his struggles and triumphs with trying to participate with others and in life.

Why I Read It: I forgot all about this one until the movie was coming out late 2012 and so I sought out a copy. And then I forgot about it until it was my work book club’s pick for February.
Thoughts in General: The Perks of Being a Wallflower was published the same year that I graduated from high school. Honestly I didn’t know that books like this one were available when I was in high school. I read the books that my parents were reading or books that were assigned for class or I had heard of through class (ie classics) or other adult type books I found at the library. I’m not sure what would have changed for me if I knew there were books actually aimed at young adults at the time, but it does make me sad that I missed out on books like these as a teen.
I kind of want to ramble on about the topic of young adult books and reading them as a young adult versus a 30 year old adult, but what I would be trying to say in a nutshell is that Perks brought me back to high school in a wave of nostalgia. Charlie is so brutally honest in his letters and it’s easy to see his naiveté and innocence, and while my experiences in high school were different from Charlie’s he made me feel what he was feeling and made me remember what I felt 18 years ago. People say of The Fault in Our Stars “It will make you feel ALL the things” but there is a rawness about Charlie and the cast of characters in Perks that I’ve never felt from the characters in a John Green book. Not to belittle Green because I’ve enjoyed his books, but Perks WILL make you feel ALL the things. So there.
Charlie and his letters to his friend made me laugh and they made me cry. I ached with grief at some points in the book and cheered Charlie on in others. The novel is incredibly short and the epistolary format makes it easy to devour. Because the book is written from Charlie’s point of view, the writing feels a touch rudimentary at times but at the same time stilted and exaggerated. I remember being 15 and trying to fluff up my own writing, but because of this it did take me a while to get into the groove of Charlie’s voice. One of the things I appreciate about the writing, though, is that Charlie’s growth throughout his year in high school is very visible within the writing itself. I don’t read fast enough to have read this in one sitting but I’ve heard many say they devoured Perks that quickly.

I checked several passages in the book. But this gives you a tiny taste:

“I think the idea is that every person has to live for his or her own life and then make the choice to share it with other people. Maybe that is what makes people “participate.” I’m not really certain” (169).

Bottom Line: Yes.  But hold up…I mentioned above that I read this with my work book club. We were pretty split half and half in our assessment—there were some folks who hated the book and felt that Charlie was a whiner. And I can’t help but wonder if this book were written in the late 2000s if Charlie and his friends might be a bit emo. One felt that the book was unoriginal (to which I disagree) and some did not realize that Charlie was a male until quite a bit into the novel. I do have a complaint about a rather large incident that pops up in the end of the book and I’m still wishing this part had been left out of the book. But there were others who loved this book and have read it several times. Bottom line is The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a smart and emotional coming of age story that will stick around with you after you’ve finished the last page. Just make sure you grab some music by The Smiths to really help you get into the mood of the book.

Have you read The Perks of Being a Wallflower? What did you think? Have you see the movie?

24 Responses to “The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky”

  1. Do you ever want to smack some of the other members of your book club? ;) Just wondering!

    Like you, I didn’t read this until I was an adult. (Only last year in fact!) I was so bummed that I didn’t know about this book when I was a younger lass. How did that happen???

  2. I wondered where that “feel all the things” idea originated. I’ve not read (either) book, but I love the quote you’ve included, it’s very poignant. Sounds the sort of book I’d have loved as a teenager, and, hopefully still today. I’d like to read it sometime in the near future.

  3. I wanted to love this book, but just didn’t. I thought Charlie was completely unrealistic and I couldn’t quite buy into anything that happened to him… The only bit I really felt was when they blasted the music in the car and said that it felt like forever, or something like that. I remember that feeling, of everything being great and eternal.

  4. I remember reading this story in high school — mostly because a boy I had a wicked crush on recommended it to me! (That’s true of many books, actually.) I recall enjoying it, but the details are fuzzy now . . . thinking it’s time for a re-read! (And then I want to watch the movie!)

  5. I read the book a long time ago now, and I don’t remember tons about it. I did write down quite a few quotes from it at the time. Definitely want to see the movie.

  6. I agree about the ending–it sort of ruined the book for me. I’m not sure Charlie needed a “big reason” for why he was the way he was (if that makes any sense. I mean, he’s 15! Otherwise, I really enjoyed it and it definitely took me back to my own high school days.

  7. I read this a couple of years ago, and it’s still as vivid and important in my brain as it was then. Because yes to ALL THE FEELS- I’m pretty sure I laughed out loud, cried, smiled like a loon on public transport and yeah, just all the feelings. Maaaaan, I loved it. I think I can kiind of see where people might NOT like it (the whiny thing… But I don’t really see Charlie as whiny AT ALL) but I just loved it. LOVED.

  8. Yep, I’m pretty sure this one is going on my summer reading list. I, too, keep half thinking I want to read it but not remembering to do so.

  9. I actually reserved this book at the library today before reading your review :) Interesting how that goes. I think I will enjoy this one, I heard many good things about it from my friends.

  10. I LOVED this book. Still haven’t seen the movie but I’ve heard it’s a pretty good adaptation. I’m with you…I think this really captures that age really well…honestly, better than Green’s books do. I never found Charlie to be whiny to be honest. I found him to be…well, honest. And I really fell in love with him and his story. I just thought it was just so brutally true and a real portrayal of that age. Loved it loved it loved it. Also agree with you with not knowing that books like this were out there when I was in high school…which was a sad thing. I think we’re the same age and sadly, I read the same things as you…classics and what was assigned to me. Then I went and found Stephen King and Poppy Z. Brite and Anne Rice on my own and read a lot of that too :p

  11. I started this one a year or so ago but then got caught up in review books. I think Miss H and I should read it together – it would be fun to be seeing it both from and adult and a young adult POV at the same time.

  12. Les

    I love epistolary novels and have had this on my mental TBR list for a few years. I’m thinking it might be perfect for Dewey’s Read-a-Thon later this month. Off to see if I can snag a copy at the library. I definitely want to read it before I see the movie!

  13. I really want to see the movie and think I need to read the book first. I didn’t realize it had been published so long ago (uh, no I’m not calling you old or anything :))

  14. I just read this book a couple of weeks ago. I too wish I had known that books like this were available when I was a teen. I was reading adult books then too, classics and books assigned for school. I wish I had known a librarian who could have recommended this book or something like it. I think it would have made me feel much less alone.