OK, I haven’t blogged in a while… *checks* Since July actually, and the main reason is I haven’t been really able to get into much. I’ve been leaving half-finished books, and really only concentrating on non-fiction (Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and Thinking in Numbers by Daniel Tammet), and I was seriously looking for a great, short novel to really spur me back into fiction. So, I reached out on the great Twitterverse, and the answer came back: You haven’t read The Perks of Being A Wallflower?! WHAT?!
So I opted to rectify this.
The Perks of Being A Wallflower is an Epistolary novel (Thank you Wikipedia!), which means it’s narrated in the form of correspondence. In this case, letters from the 15 year-old Charlie, to an undisclosed confident, about his hopes, his fears and his day to day life as he adjusts to the difficult world of hormones and high school. Charlie is a pseudonym, as he explains, to protect the people he loves, whose darkest secrets are often exposed in these letters. As the book progresses, we here Charlie’s innermost thoughts, his difficulty with socialising and his problems coping with his unpredictable emotions. Charlie is a quiet, sensitive boy, who doesn’t like to participate in life. He just prefers to watch. The Wallflower. But he does make friends, a band of misfits, and through music, films and books, he explores a skewed, but beautiful view on life.
OK, so I know this is a very well received book. It’s sold 700,000 copies world wide since 1999, won awards & been highly controversial in that time. But, as ridiculously cheesy as it may sound, when I read this book, I felt like I was stumbling through some secret story that spoke only to me, and I felt every aspect of it keenly and deeply.
I’ll start with the problems I had with it. No book is perfect, and this book is fantastic, but I have to admit, the narrative style split me. The letter format made it quick, easy and enjoyable. They worked as superb alternatives to chapters, and it lead to a very rapid reading style (I was up until 2am because I physically couldn’t STOP READING). However, it was Charlie’s voice that grated on me. He didn’t write like a 15 year old to me. He sounded like a 9 year old at points, his nativity was clear, and obviously this was intentional so he could discover life, but the sentence structure was a bit… Sterile, almost basic. It was clearly written with great language in mind, but to me, it just didn’t resonate with how a 15 year old should write in a non-formal setting.
That all being said however, it did not stop the book from being FREAKING EXCELLENT. I don’t even know where to start. Normally, I’ll start with characterisation, and that sounds good. All the characters where wonderful, a band of thoughtful misanthropes, with the sense of angst and pretension that only comes from being a teenager. Charlie resonated with me in a lot of ways (again, I know he probably resonates with millions of people all over the world), especially in the sense of finding joy in music and books, and finding social interaction not difficult, but often unpleasant. He over analyses, panics and never knows what the right thing to do is. He’s often frozen by indecision, and that’s an experience I know all too well. Bill was another superb character, and as all great English teachers in books, he reminded me of my own favourite teacher, also an English teacher. The books he recommends through Perks are made of several of my own favourites (including To Kill A Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye), so that helped me bond to both characters very well. Patrick and Sam are both wonderfully painted characters, that Charlie looks up to, despite their own shortcomings and downfalls, because that’s what friendship is to Charlie. You take the bad parts of people because the good parts are worth it. I think that’s a very good way of looking at it. Very honest.
Plot-wise, the book had me on tenterhooks for the whole way through. It was like a roller-coaster of emotions (another cliché! I’m doing well!), and I often found myself laughing, smiling, nodding along with situations I could remember being in. I also found myself gasping with disbelief and also in tears at several points. It’s been a very long time since I’ve stayed up until the wee hours to finish a book, and a long time since it’s left such a lasting impact on me (not since A Monster Calls).
The Perks of Being A Wallflower will not be for everyone. There is an overwhelming sense of Teen Angst, & I can see where that would put people off. It can be melodramatic, and it is prone to being a bit pretentious, but I loved every second of it. It was better than Catcher in the Rye, by light-years, for teen-ridden coming-of-age. I’m sceptical about the film, I must admit that Emma Watson is very different to how I imagined Sam, but at least it’s being both written and directed by author Stephen Chbosky. That can only be a good sign right?
We are all infinite.
P.S. The book does contain several scenes of drug taking, under-age alcohol consumption and scenes of a sexual nature. I would recommend not for under 15-year olds.