The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Book Cover

Chbosky, S. (1999). The perks of being a wallflower. New York: Gallery Books. Print.

Reader’s Annotation

Depressed high school freshman Charlie narrates a series of letters to a friend he’s never met. His letters reflect the confusing world around him as he negotiates this strange new world where people die, get high, have sex and experience all kinds of new feelings and ordeals.

Plot Summary

Charlie is depressed. His best friend committed suicide over summer and he doesn’t feel especially close to his parents or his older sister. He had an aunt Helen once, whom he adored and trusted, but she’s dead too. Things start to get better for Charlie when he befriends Sam and Patrick, an older step-sister and brother duo that take Charlie under their wing.

Charlie is still a teenager though, and still confused about his place in the world. Charlie has romantic feelings for Sam, despite the fact that they both agree that she’s too old for him. Even so he struggles with his affection, especially after Sam begins dating Craig, a “hunky” boy her own age. Charlie eventually begins dating a girl his own age, Mary Elizabeth, but that relationship ends when his preference for Sam becomes undeniably clear. Additionally Charlie appears to be suffering from something more than a mild depression as result from his friend’s death. This is especially telling as his favorite song is “Asleep” by The Smiths, a song rife with allusions of death and suicide, as well as his return to Catcher in the Rye, a book that is narrated by another troubled young man. He also confesses to memory loss and hallucinations, definite signs of more troubling mental problems.

There are several other important relationships explored in Charlie’s narrative. Sam’s stepbrother Patrick is in a relationship with Brad, high school football quarterback, who is still in the closet. After a series of close calls, the couple is caught in the act and a series of traumatizing events follow, ending with a gang of jocks attacking Patrick and Charlie rushing to his defense. Charlie’s English teacher, who allows Charlie to call him Bill outside of class, takes a special interest in Charlie and encourages him to take participate in the high school experience.

As the book comes to a close Charlie confront his desire for Sam and begins to resolve his emotional problems.

Critical Evaluation

Perks is a really great novel. Chbosky does an excellent job of creating a character that I believe many teens, and adults for that matter, can relate to. I read it for the first time when I was twenty and now eleven years later I appreciate it on a whole other level. As Charlie stumbled and tripped his way through his first year of high school I sometimes cringed at his innocence and other times railed at the way he had been manipulated and abused by other characters in the novel. Still other times I wanted to shake him for being so self-centered, in particular the truth or dare scene when he kisses Sam– that is such a crappy and passive aggressive way to end a relationship, way to be a dick, Charlie. Overwhelmingly though, my impression of Charlie was someone who really needed a hug and someone to help him through some really rough times. The question I keep asking myself, and it seems a common thread in this kind of novel, is where the hell were his parents? Why didn’t they know something was wrong, that he was suffering so? As a mom I have a really hard time understanding how you just wouldn’t know something was wrong with your child and in Perks (Speak too, for that matter), I just don’t get why Charlie folks were so checked out.

Author Information

Stephen Chbosky was born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania in 1970. He achieved a BFA from USC in 1992 and wrote, acted and directed his first piece Four Corners of Nowhere in 1995. MTV Books published Perks in 1999 and it quickly become their best selling novel. Chbosky has written a number of other screen plays and movies, including the 2005 movie adaptation of Rent and most recently has directed the movie version of Perks. 

Genre

Young Adult Fiction, High School, Coming of Age.

Curriculum Ties

n/a

Booktalk Ideas

Charlie reads Catcher in the Rye several times in the course of this novel. How does his character compare to Holden Caulfield?

Reading Level/Interest Age 

14 and up

Challenge Issues

Sex, drugs, suicide, homosexuality, violence, abortion.

Reason for inclusion

Modern great American novel. Deals with very real issues that high schoolers face on the day to day.

References

Beisch, A. (2001). Interview with Stephen Chbosky, the author of the perks of being a wallflower. LA Youth. Retrieved from: http://www.layouth.com/interview-with-stephen-chbosky-author-of-the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower/

Bing, J. (2000). ‘Perks’ guy in pics; Nerve wracking up deals. Variety. Retrieved from: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117787257?refCatId=1007

Stax. (2005). 10 questions: Stephen Chbosky. ING. Retrieved from: http://www.ign.com/articles/2005/12/01/10-questions-stephen-chbosky

Stephen Chbosky. (2006). In Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CH1000161510&v=2.1&u=csusj&it=r&p=LitRC&sw=w

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