WRITTEN BY ZARA SHANAVAZ
Symposia : 7/10
Goodreads : 4.2/5
“And all the books you’ve read have been read by other people. And all the song’s you’ve loved have been loved by other people. And the girl that’s pretty to you is pretty to other people. And you know that if you looked at these facts when you were happy, you would feel great because you are describing ‘unity’.”
I recently read Stephen Chbosky’s ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’, eager to decipher the hype behind the book. Many claim that this book had a lot to do with the shaping of the YA genre and many praised the book for being progressive for its time. Both of which, we will talk about. But, one of the most popular claims was that this book would make you cry. The story follows Charlie, the protagonist, and his high school experience. Charlie battles mental illness and deals with unresolved grief of his best friend who committed suicide. This coming of age story follows Charlie dealing with these difficult issues whilst traversing the high school experience and making friends along the way.
Chbosky’s writing style in this novel was a first for me. The epistolary form of the book (meaning it was written in letters from the protagonist) was intriguing and brought both positives and negatives to the novel. The letters were all spread out through random points in Charlie’s life and hence, the plot was inconsistent. I believe that the letters were necessary as the book would have dragged on with unnecessary details otherwise. They also brought about great reader engagement as they were addressed to an unnamed friend. It is up to interpretation if the recipient is the reader.
Additionally, since they were letters, the entire novel was in the first person point of view. While I loved getting to know Charlie and his character, I only got to see the other characters in the story through Charlie’s lenses. This limited the side character development. Even though I loved the side characters, I would have liked to formulate my own opinions rather than basing them off of Charlie’s. Having said that, the writing was beautiful. The only way I could describe it, is as bittersweet and emotion inducing. Another component which impressed me was the voice of the protagonist. There was no question that Charlie sounded like a 14-15 year old. Being an adult, Stephen Chbosky did an impressive job of creating a realistic teenage voice.
The character representation was substantial. Having been published in 1999, the representation was applaudable. For instance, Patrick, Charlie’s best friend, was gay. There was also representation of sexual assault, rape, mental illness, drug use, self harm, and suicide (You may want to also take these trigger warnings into consideration before reading this book). The mental health representation was praiseworthy as it accurately portrayed the characters’ valid feeling including their healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms. This was never once dramatised for the purpose of the plot. Not only were the topics authentically and delicately represented, the novel was published at a time when conversations about representation were not even taking place. This in my opinion, is commendable.
Well, did I cry? Yes I did, and let me tell you why. Charlie’s character is well constructed and likeable, initiating reader attachment. When you see characters you’re invested in going through a hard time, it is a natural response. This book also just made me feel seen and heard. It was relatable to a painful extent.
All in all, do I think you should read this book? Yes. Can I predict that you will cry? Absolutely not. The simple answer is that everyone is different and sometimes the expectation that the book community gives you may ultimately adulterate your reaction. Nonetheless, this quick read is impeccable. If you feel, however, that this premise sounds intriguing to you but you don’t want to read the book? Try watching the movie. The adaptation is great and the screenplay was written by Stephen Chbosky as well. Nevertheless, both, the book and the movie, are admirable.
“I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we'll never know most of them. But even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.”
Trigger warnings :