Review by guest author Kerry Gillard
Our latest book club choice was The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. Despite the fact that there was a movie recently released based on the book, I knew very little about it; but what little I did hear made me think it might be an interesting read.
Although it is classed as a young adults book and the story takes place while the main characters are in high school, the themes of the book are very mature, and parents should be aware of that if they are giving this book to a young adult. Having said that, most of the people in our book club with children said that they would be OK with their teenage children reading it, as it offers many positive ideas about remaining true to yourself.
The book is written in the first person from the perspective of Charlie (a self-admitted pseudonym), a young boy of 15 who is about to start high school, and he is writing letters detailing his daily life. The letters are simply addressed to “Dear Friend” and at no point in the book do you discover who this friend is, which several of us found a little frustrating. He mentions at one point that the person in question is someone he has seen at school and seems like a nice person, which is why he chose him to write to, although he could have been referring to middle school. I think that keeping this friend completely anonymous would have worked better if Charlie had simply written the letters in the form of a diary, but he refers several times to mailing the letters and that makes we wonder why the person receiving them didn’t feature more in the story. If he was in fact somebody at Charlie’s school it seems unlikely that he wouldn’t have figured out who Charlie was and maybe tried to help when he needed it. In fact, the “friend” is so vaguely referred to that between the 12 members of the book club we had at least 3 different opinions as to who it was!
Charlie is extremely intelligent but has no social skills at all, leading to a very insular life. He is also going to therapy, which initially started after a classmate committed suicide. His therapy continues as he is not opening up enough and it ends up helping with something that only becomes clear at the end of the book, although it is alluded to quite often and some of us did clue in to what that was. As I am trying to keep this review mostly spoiler free for those who haven’t read it, that is all I will say regarding that. At school, Charlie keeps very much to himself and is ignored by most people – leading him to spend most of his time observing others; hence, the wallflower of the title.
He meets high school seniors Sam and Patrick – step sister and brother – who are also misfits at school but without the social problems that plague Charlie. They take him under their wing and start taking him to parties and just spending time with him. Charlie’s observations of the group of friends he is now part of are fascinating: he sees so much more under the surface and this allows him to be there for the group whenever they are having issues. The down side of this, which Sam eventually sees but Charlie doesn’t, is that Charlie is always doing what other people want him to do regardless of what Charlie wants. One example of this is when Patrick is heartbroken over his boyfriend leaving him, Charlie allows him to kiss him several times even though he really doesn’t want to.
Sam is constantly telling him to be his own person; as is his English Literature teacher, Bill, who challenges him to read extra-curricular books that are about going out and living for yourself. Eventually, Charlie notices that the more he reads these books the more he is able to express himself, both in his letters and in life.
As I mentioned before I don’t want to spoil the story for those who haven’t read it, so I am not going to say anything more about the story itself. I think it is a story that you have to read for yourself and gain your own interpretations of how it concludes, because we certainly had a lot of differing opinions about it in book club.
I liked the way that this book was written. It was obvious that the main character was a teenager but I didn’t find myself thinking that the writer was also a teenager (which sometimes when adults write for younger adults, almost dumbing down the language). This is often the reason I don’t read many books written for and about young adults, but I had no problem with this book. It was also very clever in the way that the author’s use of language and syntax “improved” through the book as Charlie improved through the reading of the books provided by Bill.
I really liked that none of the misfits changed who they were at heart in order to fit in. They all knew that they were messed up in one way or another, but they were who they were and that was enough for them. One of my favourite lines, and a favourite of everyone in book club, is that while Charlie felt insignificant when alone, when he was with Sam and Patrick he felt they were infinite.
I’m not sure that there are many “perks” for Charlie, given what he goes through during the time frame of the story, but he ends up with life long friends who love him for who he is and that, to me, is one of the biggest perks anyone can have.