“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky, is touted as a “coming of age” novel, aimed at young adult readers, but its audience is much more expansive. In fact, the themes in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” are so adult, that it may not be suitable for some teens and younger readers. That said, it could quite possibly be ranked among those “coming of age” classics like “The Catcher in the Rye.”
The book is written as a series of letters to an anonymous friend by Charlie, who is later identified as “the wallflower.” Charlie begins writing after his friend Michael commits suicide because of “problems at home.” He is befriended by Patrick, himself something of an artsy outcast, and his sister Sam. Charlie is very attracted to Sam, although she is older and inaccessible, but he sees her as his “ideal” for much of the book. He becomes involved in their world and circle of friends, which includes regular attendance at Rocky Horror Picture Show reenactments. The challenge to “participate” in life drives Charlie to act but not necessarily out of his own desire to do so, which puts him in situations that he might not have chosen, such as parties and near sexual encounters with a girl he’s not particularly attracted to. Charlie also writes about his siblings, an older sister and brother, whose interactions with him are less kind, but accurately portray sibling relationships. All the while, Charlie aches to be part of the “infinite.” As the book unfolds, some secrets are revealed, including the homosexual relationship between Patrick and the quarterback of the football team, and the damaging relationship between Charlie and his Aunt Helen.
Just as the last book Charlie has read is his favorite, he artfully describes how his favorite music affects him and how he imagines it might feel to the song’s creator: “And I thought about how many people have loved those songs. And how many people got through a lot of bad times because of those songs. And how many people enjoyed good times with those songs. And how much those songs really mean. I think it would be great to have written one of those songs. I bet if I wrote one of them, I would be very proud. I hope the people who wrote those songs are happy. I hope that they feel it’s enough.” Charlie struggles throughout the book to feel anything is “enough” although the book’s conclusion gives readers hope that Charlie might find it.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” was first published in 1999 by Simon and Schuster. Read the book, and then watch the recently released dramatization of the novel, starring Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller