If I had read The Perks of Being a Wallflower when I was 15 or 16, it would have blown my mind. I really wish I had read it then: it might have made the melodrama that was my adolescence a bit more manageable. Or, at least, I might have realized that other kids had similar things going on. And while it makes me a bit nostalgic for the good (and bad) times I had in high school, it also reminds me how much easier things get when you grow up.
It’s about a somewhat damaged kid who starts high school and makes friends with a bunch of seniors who introduce him to the things kids are almost inevitably introduced to: sex, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes. The kid’s name is Charlie, and he’s very innocent at the beginning (I was beginning to wonder if he was *ahem* mentally challenged). He’s a good kid and always thinks of the needs and wants of others before his own. He’s generally not a troublemaker, but he occasionally has Donnie Darko-style fits (that’s another thing I wish had been around when I was fifteen). He almost instantly falls in love with Sam, one of his best friends, and he deals with unrequited love for her throughout the book. A bunch of angsty teenager mischief ensues. There’s also a big reveal near the end that I don’t think was necessary but that might explain some things.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is poignant, but it can also be funny. Here’s one of my favorite passages, in which Charlie describes his first girlfriend. It made me chuckle.
I did go to the dance, and I did tell Mary Elizabeth how nice her outfit was. I did ask her questions, and I let her talk the whole time. I learned about “objectification,” Native Americans, and the bourgeoisie.
But most of all, I learned about Mary Elizabeth.
Mary Elizabeth wants to go to Berkeley and get two degrees. One is for political science. The other is for sociology with a minor concentration in women’s studies. Mary Elizabeth hates high school and wants to explore lesbian relationships. I asked her if she thought girls were pretty, and she looked at me like I was stupid and said, “That’s not the point.”
Mary Elizabeth’s favorite movie is Reds. Her favorite book is an autobiography of a woman who was a character in Reds. I can’t remember her name. Mary Elizabeth’s favorite color is green. Her favorite season is spring. Her favorite ice cream flavor (she said she refuses to eat low-fat frozen yogurt on principle alone) is Cherry Garcia. Her favorite food is pizza (half mushrooms, half green peppers). Mary Elizabeth is a vegetarian, and she hates her parents. She is also fluent in Spanish.
I think I like Mary Elizabeth so much because that’s who I thought I was in high school. I wasn’t, of course.
My plan for this blog post was to explain why I’m too old fully to enjoy this novel, but I think I’m changing my mind. Sure, it’s in the YA section of the library, as I guess it should be. In fact, here’s a review on the Teen Scene blog by one of my coworkers (It makes me feel ooooooold and highlights the difference in perspective seven or eight years can make).
I’m not sure if I’d want my kid reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I say I’ll leave my bookshelves open and encourage reading of any sort, but I don’t think I’d want my twelve- or thirteen-year-old knowing about all of that stuff just yet. Fifteen, sixteen, sure. Hopefully my kid will have a much easier time in high school than Charlie did.
Bonus: The author, Stephen Chbosky, isn’t primarily a novelist. He wrote the screenplay for Rent and the short-lived CBS series, Jericho.
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