15 October 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I started reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower for Banned Books Week.  I was also reading Sandman, so I got a bit behind-hand on Perks.

Perks and I are a like ships in the night: it originally published in 1999 when I was busy with MCATs, lab jobs, med school applications, and homework and really wasn't in tune with the world of fiction.  The book is set in the early 1990s, though, making Charlie and I almost the same age (I was a HS freshman in the fall of 1992 - and if you think Charlie is naive you should have met me at the same age).  Charlie has major depressive symptoms (stemming from an unknown source) and he is deeply affected by loss, the most recent being a classmate's death.  He writes letters to an unnamed friend (it's unclear whether these are actually letters sent or if these are actually diary entries, there's a little wiggle room there) chronicling his freshman year of high school.  Charlie is intellectually precocious but socially awkward, perhaps to an extreme but it serves a purpose.

Charlie falls in with two seniors, Sam and Patrick, who take him under their wings, so to speak, and introduce him to a very different world that exists outside the walls of school and home.  They introduce him to the Rocky Horror Picture Show (his reaction on that first live show was about like mine).  There is drinking, smoking, experimentation with drugs, an exploration of sexuality, and the dawning realization that with all these adult choices comes the reality that human relationships are messy, messy things.  From those issues along one can see that Perks is a book ripe for the bulls-eye of those looking to remove books from libraries and schools.  Even though this is usually shelved in the adult fiction section, teen protagonists often translate to teen readers.  Charlie's letters show both sides of his choices: it might feel exhilarating and freeing to have a few beers or smoke a joint, but that laxity can cause one to do or say things that hurt our friends.

Perks is an eminently quotable book, with any number of gifs on tumblr.  Many lines are well-known such as "And in that moment, I swear we were infinite."  I may not be on the "rabid fan" bandwagon, but I thoroughly enjoyed Chbosky's writing and the final plot reveal.

The only quibble I have is the oft-stated idea that Charlie is doing extra writing assignments and improving there - yet his letters remain very even in quality, very young and confessional.  Is Charlie a bit of an unreliable narrator when he wants to be?

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