Summary: (via Goodreads) Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie is navigating through the strange worlds of love, drugs, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", and dealing with the loss of a good friend and his favorite aunt.
Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the unique creation of author Stephen Chbosky. This book, which takes the format of an epistolary novel, describes the life of a fourteen year old boy in his first year of high school. Every few days the main character, Charlie, writes a new letter in which he updates an unnamed recipient about the events of his life. Sometimes a lot happens, other times the letters are more personal and reflective. Regardless, we continue to follow his steps into that intimately familiar territory of adolescence.
After completing the book, two distinct feeling emerge: a feeling of compassion toward the great amount of drama and trauma in Charlie’s life, and an unsettling feeling toward the strangeness of Charlie’s behavior. This eeriness is cause by the fact that he only exhibits two distinct emotional states: incredible emotional hyperactivity and complete emotional inactivity. The mystery behind his anonymity (Charlie is the pen-name he creates for himself while addressing the letters) combined with the fact that we never learn where he is from or who he is writing to also contribute to this sensation. And it’s not until we realize the strategic purpose behind his behavior and anonymity that we truly start to understand the book. It seems Chbosky envisioned his hero as the fictional representation of all of us. The author manages to give Charlie this universality by making him a perfect chameleon: Charlie is both reclusive and outgoing, both your best friend and a complete oddity, both emotionally stable and a complete wreck. The reason Charlie needs to be all these things is because he is facing the quintessential life dilemma of choosing whether he should try and satisfy others or try and satisfy himself. What complicates the matter is that he repeatedly fails to do either, which lead him into modes of depression, disorientation, and indifference.
The only times he does get some respite from himself is when he reads books and spends time with Sam, the girl that he loves. Charlie finds comfort in the books that he reads (e.g., The Stranger, The Catcher in the Rye, The Fountainhead), and you can see a 1991 version of Holden Caulfield and Meursault in him. His friendship with Sam is another thing altogether. He is in awe of her bluntness and honesty and beauty. She gives him a strange sort of comfort and he craves her on a purely emotional basis, something quite contradictory to what he is: a hormonally driven teenage boy.
Perhaps because it’s been so many years since we’ve been fourteen or maybe it’s because we never really had the time to analyze life at that age, but reading Charlie’s narrative is a revelation. The honesty in his words is stirring, packed with innocent notions about things like acceptance, self image, and the emotions of parents and siblings. His account is both wondrous and difficult to read. In many ways, what he reveals isn’t new at all but more like an old memory we’ve forgotten.
Lit Snit Verdict: B