Published February 2nd 2009 by Pocket Books (first published February 1st 1999)
Author: Stephen Chbosky
Genre: Young Adult
Star Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“I walk around the school hallways and look at the people. I look at the teachers and wonder why they’re here. 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…or wondering who did the heart breaking and wondering why.”
Charlie is a freshman. And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But Charlie can’t stay on the sideline forever. 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.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.
I don’t know if anyone else has that one book, that one story which connects with them in a way that others don’t. I feel like, in some ways, this is that book for me. While I’m not going to shout from the rooftops, holding this book above my head, “THIS IS AMAZING EVERYONE READ IT I LOVE THIS BOOK THERE IS NO BETTER BOOK THAN THIS!” I will say that at various points in this book I was moved to tears and had to stop because of how much I could relate to the situation the main character, Charlie, was in.
First, I’m going to define Wallflower: noun, informal, a shy or excluded person at a dance or party, especially a girl without a partner.
The few times I have been to a party or a night out, this has literally been the definition of me. I stand around and don’t talk to people, and if I do get in a conversation it soon dies down and the other person loses interest. It isn’t so much that I’m a boring person, it’s just that ‘dance’ and ‘party’ atmospheres aren’t my thing. I would much rather stay at home and read a book about, let’s say, wallflowers?
I have a friend who knows me better than I know myself (she knows who she is), and I remember once she asked me if I was okay, and I said yes. Then she said, “You’re just like Charlie, you need to participate!” She told me that she’d noticed I was quiet, to which I replied, “But I’m always quiet.” This was when she revealed to me that she’d observed different types of quiet that I express. She can tell when I’m okay and when I’m not, and when I might say something. I love her for this, and I think this is one of the reasons why she bought me The Perks of Being a Wallflower because giving it to me was a gesture with a message. The message I got from it was: It’s okay to be quiet, but it is also okay to participate and join in. Let yourself have fun when you want it, and let yourself be solitary when you need it. This won’t change who you are, and don’t change for anyone.
Of course, there’s a deeper side to it, where being quiet and introverted has an impact on your mental state, but we’ll touch on that later.
The book is written as a series of letters which begin ‘Dear Friend’ and end ‘Love always, Charlie’. I think this is a perfect way to show what kind of a person Charlie is. I am a lover of writing letters, and I think it can be easier to write to someone and tell them what you’re feeling/experiencing in such an honest way. When you’re face to face you wouldn’t be expected to, or feel the need to go into depth the way you would in a letter. Charlie uses this as an outlet to everything that has been happening to him.
The first letter begins as such:
“August 25th, 1991
I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have, Please don’t try to figure out who she is because then you might figure out who I am, and I really don’t want you to do that. I will call people by different names or generic names because I don’t want you to find me. I didn’t enclose a return address for the same reason. I mean nothing bad by this. Honest.”
When I get a book, I always read the opening lines, and I love the opening to this book. It sets out exactly what he is doing and why he is doing it, but also shows his need to remain anonymous and hide from the world and for people not to know who he is. Where does this need come from? I understand what it feels like to want to shut yourself off. I avoid social media sites such as Facebook (both because I don’t want people prying in on my life and also because I don’t really care what other people get up to, unless they are my close friend, in which case we text and meet up regularly) and it took me a while to come round to the idea of other sites such as Twitter and Instagram. Part of setting this blog up is also another step I’m taking to try and get myself out there, but in a way that suits me. That’s why these reviews may go further than a simple review of the book, I will delve into how it affects me as a person and what my reading experience is like.
There is a scene where Charlie’s friends fall out with him over something that he feels was completely justified. To him, he’d done nothing wrong, but to his friends he had. I remember reading this and having a sinking feeling as well as that of relief. There are two sides to this: His perception of the world makes him less able to understand when he has done something wrong/offended someone, and it pains him that other people can see it so clearly. At the same time, his friends don’t understand that he might not understand this, and they see him in a different light because of it, or see him as someone he has no intention of being. I think this comes from a type of honesty that appears dishonest, and it is a vicious cycle.
“Maybe I should have been honest then, but it didn’t feel like the right time.”
When you’re an introvert, people expect quietness and shyness, and when you talk people turn their heads like it’s a big deal, and the pressure is on to say the right thing, or say something worth listening to. Sometimes this pressure can get inside your head and stay there. Other people seem to be able to talk at ease, and always have something to say, but for others conversations only happen in the head. I used to be in the habit of rehearsing conversations that might come up, so that I would know what to say when it did. But they don’t always come up, and sometimes you find yourself in a situation and you do start to ‘act’ just to get through it, just to be the person that you’re expected to be, and I think Charlie gets that.
As you can see, reading this opened up a lot of thoughts about my own life (I read this a few years ago when I had the beginnings of anxiety, and it got to the point where I had Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to try and help with the way I was feeling) and looking back now, I think this book would be a good one to re-read, and see how I react to it now.
When the book was coming to a close, I was in tears. I had never cried so hard over a book before. I didn’t want it to end because I wanted Charlie’s words to stay with me, and keep coming. I think I needed to know that there was someone else that felt the same way I did, and I wanted to hear more of what he felt.
There are so many good quotes that I could pick out of this book, but I’ll share a couple that I can relate to the most, because really, if I could take the entire book as one whole quote, then I would:
“I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like that. That you wanted to sleep for a thousand years. Or just not exist. Or just not be aware that you do exist.”
I wasn’t raised very religiously because my parents went to Catholic School, but I do believe in God very much. I just never gave God a name, if you know what I mean. I hope I haven’t let Him down regardless.”
“It’s strange because sometimes, I read a book, and I think I am the people in the book. Also, when I write letters, I spend the next two days thinking about what I figured out in my letters. I do not know if this is good or bad. Nevertheless, I am trying to participate.”
Lastly, a great big thank you to the friend who bought me this book. I’m so grateful to have you in my life. Soulmates are usually known as the person you will spend the rest of your life with, the person who is right for you, and who you will be in love with. But I believe in soulmates not because I think there’s someone out there who is meant to be with me, but because you’ve been with me my entire life, and we connect on a level that I think deserves soulmate status, in a friendship kind of way.
Link to the book on Goodreads: The Perks of Being a Wallflower