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 mixed 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 Charlie 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.
I was inspired to read The Perks of Being a Wallflower after watching the film with my friends last summer. It was the type of film I love, not action-packed, just a view of someone’s life, and an amazing soundtrack (I love the ‘Come on Eileen’ scene). When I unwrapped the book on my birthday, I fell in love with the cover, and it was the first of my birthday books that I decided to read.
The Perks is about a boy named Charlie whose friend, Michael, committed suicide a year earlier. Charlie is starting at high school, he has no friends and feels like an outsider. He takes life at face value with a lovely innocent naivety. The book is written in the form of letters, from Charlie, addressed to ‘Dear Friend’.
‘You see things. You keep quiet about them and you understand.’
Shortly after the school year starts Charlie is befriended by a couple of seniors who are step-siblings, Patrick and Sam. He develops deep feelings for Sam, and she reacts very kindly to his ‘crush’. Patrick and Sam introduce Charlie to their group of friends, and Charlie loves the fact that his is involved in a group and ‘participating’. He experiences things he’s never done before, all while enjoying tapes he’s mixed for the occasion.
‘Old pictures look very rugged and young, and the people in the photographs always seem a lot happier than you are.’
Throughout the school year, Charlie also forms a close bond with his English teacher, Bill. Bill recognises Charlie’s outstanding intelligence and sets him additional books to write essays on throughout the year. Charlie does so without questioning why, completely unaware of his own brilliant intelligence.
Throughout the book, Charlie makes multiple references to his Aunt Helen, who used to babysit him and his siblings, but she died when he was younger. He adored his aunt and misses her terribly, partly blaming himself for her death because she died on her way to buy him a birthday present. However, towards the end of the book, Charlie begins to realise that his memories of Aunt Helen aren’t quite what they seem. When he finally understands, the truth it breaks him, and he ends up in the hospital.
‘It’s kind of like when you look at yourself in the mirror and you say your name. And it gets to the point where none of it seems real.’
I really enjoyed The Perks, although I thought it was quite different to the film. The book was more depressing (not in a bad way) and you could properly understand Charlie’s unique view of life, something that would be very difficult to get across on screen. The writing style reminded me of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ which I read at school; I hated it at the time because we were studying it for exams, but The Perks has made me want to pick it up again, because I think I might appreciate it more now. I would definitely recommend The Perks of Being a Wallflower and I’d love any recommendations of similar books if anyone could suggest any?
‘But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there.’