Tuesday, 10 September 2013

REVIEW: The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (1999)

SPOILERS are included in this review.

Rating: **** (4 Stars)

Brief reasons for ratings:

I found this beautifully written novel is both moving and deeply sad, while being unable to put it down. Although this has been on the market for a while now, and even had a film version released in 2012, it is still fresh and will be relevant to a wide cross section of readers. My only criticism, which is rather personal, is that I believe that it starts off rather too slowly - I felt that a greater impact and appreciation of Charlie's character and issues would have been taken from a more decisive beginning.

Recommended for:

Some sensitivity must be used here, as the content could be upsetting for those who may have personal connection or particular awareness of some of the issues in the book, or children/young adults going through a troubled time. However, the book is very suitable for 16+, and particularly those readers who are able to draw conclusions and analyze as they read or as part of a discussed/class reading project.


The Perks of Being A Wallflower is narrated by 'Charlie' (an alias), in the form of letters to 'a friend'. Through this epistolary style, Charlie reveals his introspection, social awkwardness and some fairly serious mental health problems, which all seem to originate from the death of his Aunt Helen on his birthday, which falls at Christmas.

Chbosky details the agony of teenage years with a surprising respect for the difficulties experienced, and a sympathetic yet direct clarity which expects objectivity from a reader- especially when Charlie comes head to head with controversial topics such as drug use, sexuality and mental health. Charlie's personable character is at its most endearing at such times, with a naive and non-judgmental attitude, he skates over prejudice and, as a fellow social misfit, is firmly accepted into the group. 

Charlie's family seem a casual mixture of self-involved, oblivious and simply ordinary which provides a rather lightly shaded background upon which Charlie's personality and problems stand out to the reader. However, this sheer normality also allows for Charlie's issues to both be accepted as Charlie's own personal norm, and be disregarded as such. The appeal of this to the reader is that it highlights the possibility of the circumstances and the horror of them in a very strong, relate-able manner: this family could be yours. It could be your neighbor. It could be your friend. Statistically, the probability is that everyone has come across (whether aware or not) someone who has had to deal with some kind of abuse, and this happens to normal people- Chbosky's novel brings this home in a very rounded, gentle, terrible fashion. 

However, the vast majority of the plot focuses on Charlie's current life, friends and experiences, and these are not often overshadowed by events his past, except through his own (lack of) social skills. The relationship between Charlie and Sam, and development of Charlie's sexuality, is what truly brings about Charlie's recovered memories of trauma. This is encouraged by his awareness of Patrick's homosexual relationship with the school jock, and his protection of Patrick when this falls apart. 

The famous quote from this book is about feeling 'infinite', and the infinity of youth, which narrows to an acute awareness of time passing as we grow older, is very present within the novel. One aspect of this that particularly interests me, is the subtlety and kindness with which this concept is developed for the reader. Perhaps writing with the younger reader in mind, Chbosky shows a growing awareness of morality, human frailty, the possibility of choice and the responsibilities of adulthood. Charlie passively encourages the readers awareness of this burgeoning mental ability to understand and cope through his narration and reactions to 'typical' teen stimuli- for example, Charlie's choice to kiss Sam and not Mary Elizabeth, and the peer censorship he receives for this 'wrong' choice.


This book is a thoughtful, inspirational, uplifting and honest. Warm while exploring some of the coldest aspects of human experience, Charlie is a 'hero' that is engaging and intelligent and Chbosky tells his story with delicate sensitivity. A book to be read with some care, which gives back more food for thought the longer you spend thinking about each page, I very much enjoyed the novel, and will certainly consider watching the film additionally.

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