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The Perks of Being a Wallflower Paperback – 2 Feb 2009
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25 Ways To Keep Up The Culture:
16. Perks of Being a Wallflower. Emma Watson reinvents herself as Sam, a preppie American wild-child in Stephen Chbosky s film adaptation of his own coming-of-age bestseller. Ezra We Need To Talk About Kevin Miller plays Sam s gay step-brother and looks almost as pretty --Evening Standard
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. 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.See all Product description
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The first person narrative is very accessible, but it's the protagonist himself who you really come to appreciate with his observations and self-awareness (or lack of, sometimes). I find him very relatable and his experiences resonated with myself and many others who have read this book. We all go through struggles in our teenage years, some of them universal and some of them very personal.
Don't let the diary-format put you off. This is actually easy enough to read and doesn't set out to confuse the reader.
I've never met a single person - friend, blogger, librarian or bookseller - who has read 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' and not fallen in love. This is such a wonderful book, and it's perfect summer reading too. It's the coming-of-age story of a fifteen year-old boy called Charlie, told entirely in epistolary form via letters to an unnamed friend-of-a-friend. Quiet, introspective and naive, Charlie is surely one of the most loveable and achingly sweet characters I've ever come across in my reading life. It is his freshman year, and to his surprise his largely solitary existence is turned upside down when he is 'adopted' by worldly older stepsiblings Patrick and Sam. At the same time his English teacher, Bill, begins to draw him out of his academic shell with some well-timed encouragement. Slowly, his new friends nudge Charlie out into the big wide world, into a bountiful land of music and books, love and longing, parties and 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show' - and stand beside him through the hardships that teenage life and his own past conspire to throw his way.
This is definitely going to be one of my favourite books of the year. I adored Charlie and found myself underlining things on almost every page as his thoughtful exploration of the world around him prompted me to stop and reflect. I also noted down dozens of movie, book and music references to check out later, which was a bit of an unexpected bonus! Through his letters we can see Charlie's style mature as he does, and our involvement becomes deeply personal because it feels like he's writing just for us. Chbosky's characters are complex and painfully real, and no one is all good or all bad, even Charlie himself. I think Patrick was my favourite, because he was all heart even when he wasn't necessarily doing the right thing! I loved Bill too - I think every student should have a Bill to see their strengths and provide a shining light of knowledge and hope during the difficult school years. Some really serious teen issues are discussed throughout the book - rape, drugs, gay identity, abuse - without ever feeling too heavy or gratuitous, and I can well understand the reputation it has gained as a positive, even life-saving cult classic for young readers.
The only thing I didn't like - and the reason for the half-star drop - were those occasional moments when I felt like my heart would break because SURELY no one could be so naive at fifteen? The book becomes quite difficult to read at times as Charlie's naivety is stripped away - this is the true meaning of the word 'bittersweet'! But it really is an unmissable novel. Charlie is such an intuitive character, and the writing is beautiful; he thinks outside the box and it's a pleasure to read! He is inspiring and generous, and accepts everything with a high level of tolerance and emotional intelligence, even if he is very childlike in other ways. There is something for everyone here, whether you are 15 or 50 - and I can't WAIT until 2013 when Chbosky's adaptation finally hits the big screens. I'll be first in line to laugh and cry all over again... :)
Epistolary novels are not unusual; it's a well worn trope for a soul-revealing look at life. But WHO is Charlie supposed to be writing to? I was waiting for a big reveal, expecting a 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' type shocker where we'd find out that there either was no 'friend' or that the friend was his dead aunt, a past abuser, his psychiatrist or just anybody who actually had a part in the book. He refers to a psychologist but never clarifies WHY he sees one, hints at anger management issues and then turns into an avenging ninja when his friend is attacked. It's all just a bit of a mess. Throw in just about everything that could happen to a group of teens - drugs, alcohol, pregnancy, suicide......... - it's like the author had a check-list of big issues to shoe-horn into the story. Where was anorexia and bulimia? I think I missed those but the rest of the angst-bag was emptied out and thrown around.
It's not all bad. I enjoyed the friendship between Charlie, Sam and Patrick but even that had its dysfunctional elements. I enjoyed being reminded of the joy of the mixed tape - what DO teens do these days? Swap 'play lists'? I enjoyed some of the Rocky Horror Show reminders - but there was TOO much. And I liked the perspective of the child-like innocent observing and reporting.
I can see that arty teens will LOVE this book - just as generations before them loved 'Catcher in the Rye' but from what I recall, not that much actually happened in that either. Reviewers suggest the film may make more sense than the book. I'm really not sure that I can be bothered.