Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Steven Chbosky - Book Review

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 mix 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 he 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 think what makes Perks so likable is the fact that almost everyone can relate to Charlie on some level, whether it's personally or because he reminds you of someone close to you. We all know the kid who gets taken in by a group of older kids. The awkward kid who just wants to fit in at the end of the day. Maybe you were that kid. Or maybe you know someone who only wants to help those he loves. Someone who cries just because his friend is. Someone who sees the world through this wonderful, naive lens of beauty and love, of sadness and insecurity.

For me, Charlie was my brother. Whenever I’d read about something bad happening to him, I’d get this sisterly protective surge of emotion that made it hard to remember it’s just a book. Whenever I’d read about him doing something bad, like smoking or drinking or…harder stuff, I’d want to yell at him to never be so stupid, to treat himself and his body better and to never, ever think he can’t say no just because everyone else is doing it (even though I’ve done a lot of that stuff not long ago myself; ah, the hypocrisy of protectiveness). See, my brother is a bit…stunted. Not majorly, but enough to color some of his actions, to keep that na├»ve lens over his eyes a bit longer than is normal. As a teenager, it would take him a bit longer to grasp certain things, both social and academic.

Which brings me to the reason this is only a 3.5-star book. Charlie is fifteen. He’s an exceptional student, very smart and, at times, astute. He has these flashes of brilliance throughout the book that contrast glaringly with his social ineptitude. He’s also a fifteen year old boy, with no diagnosed disorders, who cries All. The. Time. Even my brother, who does have that slight mental hindrance, learned to control his water-works by the time he was fifteen. It just didn’t feel believable to me, that Charlie could possess that level of naivety and emotional sensitivity when his intelligence was so advanced for his age. Also, he reads a lot. Even without much of a social life, you pick up a lot through books. He has a brother who is in college, with posters of half-naked girls in his room and a pretty normal dating history, yet Charlie doesn’t even know what masturbation is until he finally discovers it on page 21. I’m not implying that his brother’s sexual knowledge should have anything to do with Charlie’s, but clearly, they didn’t grow up in a strict, puritan-like household. I seriously had to close the book for a minute and take a deep breath when I came to that, because the ludicrousness of it is just off the charts.

I think Perks would have worked a lot better if Charlie had either been a few years younger, a bit less socially awkward, or did suffer from some mild mental disorder (though, as a friend pointed out to me when I brought this up to her, you can’t know if maybe he does have one that he just doesn’t know about yet; Perks is a very ambiguous book in a lot of ways). You grow to understand him a lot better by the end, but not quite enough to excuse some of his more extreme naivety. Still, though, it’s easy to grow attached to Charlie and his friends, and feel this sense of nostalgia when you finish the book that very few novels can evoke.


The Perks Of Being A Wallflower - 3.5 out of 5 stars

11 comments:

  1. Aww, I'm glad you enjoyed this one. I think in my mind Charlie definitely did have a disorder in a way. I mean, being abused, that leaves scars like this on his behavior. I guess that's what I really liked about it, as soon as you know what happened to him in his youth, his whole personality makes sense. When I finished, I started the book again right away, to try to see the hints and signs and everything. I just love it so much. Nice review!

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    1. Yeah, I kind of have the feeling that if I were to read it again knowing what I found out at the end, I may appreciate it more. But I spent most of the book rolling my eyes at some of his more blatant naivety that it kind of stuck with me, even after the big reveal. I still really liked it, though. Just not quite a 4-star read for me.

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  3. Thanks, Kelly, an insightful review. Perhaps you'd review my young adult book SpaceHive? I'd be happy to gift you with the eBook. I'm looking for reviews on Amazon if you'd care to do that after reading the book.

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    1. I'd love to, but I, uh...don't have an e-reader just yet. :/ I plan on rectifying that as soon as I can afford it, though. I'd be honored to read it for you then, but I can't say for sure when it'll be.

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  4. Interesting review Kelly, I have mostly seen rave reviews so its good to see a different opinion on this & where the book fell down for you. Without having read the book for myself, the points you made above seem totally valid. One thing i love about reading is how we all bring our own life experiences to the book and it colours what we read. Looking forward to seeing what I think now when I get round to reading it.

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    1. Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment, Trish! I agree about bringing our own life experiences into what we read, that's one reason I think everyone has such varifying experiences and opinions reading the same book. Perks really was good, though, it just had its issues that were kind of hard for me to overlook.

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  5. Wow I read this book way back in the day. . .like I'm think when I was maybe 15 years old myself. I can barely even remember what the book was about but I do remember it was a book that rekindled my love for reading in my awkward years and I that did like it a lot.

    I actually still having it sitting on my book shelf collecting dust. It might be time to pull out the duster and crack it open again and see if my older self agrees with you now.

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    1. Haha, I have a few of those teen-years book loves, some that probably, in actuality, weren't even half as good as Perks. No matter how much other people try to say they aren't nearly as good as I remember them, I still love them to pieces.

      Perks is a really good book with likeable characters, though. Just a few things that rang as a bit too unrealistic to me.

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    1. You should! I didn't completely love it, but it's definitely worth reading. It's one of those books you know you'll remember for a long, long time.

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