As a frequent visitor to bookstores, I have often taken the risk of picking up a book that I’ve never heard anything about. Many times, this results in an average, run-of-the-mill book. But on very rare occassions, you can stumble on a book that blows you away. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is one of those of books. In fact, I would venture to say that it’s the best book you’ve never read.
The story of the book follows a young man, Charlie, whose best friend, Michael Dobson, recently committed suicide. The book is written as a series of letters from Charlie to a friend (whose identity is never revealed). At the start of the book, you get the impression that most of the book is going to be about Charlie dealing with the death of his friend, but the story soon becomes more about Charlie himself and his own pursuits to fit in at high school. Charlie is the wallflower described in the title of the book. He is socially awkward, but very caring. Sensitive to everything around him, but not fully aware of what it all means.
We are quickly introduced to Patrick, a friendly football player, and Sam, a girl who Charlie is immediately attracted to. These two take Charlie under their wings and introduce him to all manner of different social events, including trips to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The remainder of the book follows the friendships’ ups and downs as Charlie tries to figure out where he belongs.
The refreshing thing about this book is its writing. As I mentioned, it’s written as letters from Charlie. At the beginning, the letters are short and factual. As the story develops, though, and Charlie gets advice from his English teacher, the writing becomes more profound and interesting. I can’t put my finger on what makes the writing great, but the simplicity of it is part of it. Take the following quote for example,
I walked over to the hill where we used to go and sled. There were a lot of little kids there. I watched them flying. Doing jumps and having races. And I thought that all those kids are going to grow up someday. And all of those little kids are going to do the things that we do. And they will all kiss somebody someday. But for now, sledding is enough. I think it would be great if sledding were always enough, but it isn’t.
There’s something innocent in that last line, but also something very expressive. This kind of casual but profound writing is found scattered throughout the book, and never comes off feeling pretentious. It never breaks out of character, and everything is as Charlie would think and write it.
The way this story is written, and the timeless nature of its storyline (which is basically finding your place in the world during high school) allow you to really be taken in by the whole thing. There are plenty of scenes, such as Charlie’s moment with his father after watching the final episode of M*A*S*H, or Charlie’s first party that remind you of times like this in your own life. These scenes are scattered throughout the book, but along with the scenes are descriptions of feelings that are just spot on. Take this one, for example:
…there is a feeling that I had friday night after the homecoming game that I don’t know if I will ever be able to describe except to say that it is warm. Sam and Patrick drove me to the party that night, and I at in the middle of Sam’s pickup truck. Sam loves her pickup truck because I think it reminds her of her dad. The feeling I had happened when Sam told Patrick to find a station on the radio. And he kept getting commercials. And commercials. And a really bad song about love that had the word “baby” in it. And then more commercials. And finally he found this really amazing song about this boy and we all got quiet.
Sam tapped her hand on the steering wheel. Patrick held his hand outside the care and made air waves. And I just sat between then. After the song finished, I said something.
“I feel infinite.”
And Sam and Patrick looked at me like I said the greatest thing they ever heard. Because the song was that great and because we all really paid attention to it. Five minutes of a lifetime were truly spent, and we felt young in a good way. I have since bought the record, and I would tell you what it was, but truthfully, it’s not the same unless you’re driving to your first real party, and you’re sitting in the middle seat of a pickup with two people when it starts to rain.
The author’s ability to grab hold of feelings such as this and make you remember them are what make this book amazing. I’ve told multiple people about this book, and what I usually end up describing is how, at the end of the book, you’re sad that it’s over because you don’t get to spend time with the characters any more.
Needless to say, I enjoyed this book, and I think you will, too. As a note, I’ve made earlier references to music and reading. If you do get this book, there’s a certain playlist you should have handy, and when you’ll read the book, you’ll know why. It is: Asleep by the Smiths, Vapour Trail by Ride, Scarborough Fair by Simon & Garfunkel, A Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harum, Time of No Reply by Nick Drake, Dear Prudence by the Beatles, Gypsy by Suzanne Vega, Nights in White Satin by the Moody Blues, Daydream by Smashing Pumpkins, Dusk by Genesis, MLK by U2, Blackbird by the Beatles, Landslide by Fleatwood Mac, and Asleep by the Smiths (again).
Any thoughts on this book? Leave us a comment. Also leave a comment on other books you’ve found by random chance, but really enjoyed.
People who would like it: Anybody looking for a good story with some depth thrown in like seasoning.
People who wouldn’t like it: Younger kids. There are sexually explicit sections to it, as a warning. Nothing too dramatic for anyone in high school or above, but I thought the warning was somewhat necessary.