[Review] The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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

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 Writing

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 Feelings

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.

Grade: A
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.

17 thoughts on “[Review] The Perks of Being a Wallflower

  1. I have actually heard quite a bit about this book, but never really wanted to read it until I read your review. Great playlist too!

    I love picking up random books and then discovering how great they are. I found Under the Skin by Michel Faber this way. And Trap for Cinderella by Sebastien Japrisot (out of print, but well worth seeking out – it’s one of my favorites!)

  2. great review. I had to chuckle about the main character being befriended by the football player. I was a wallflower in highschool and my best friend was our class Prez. Go figure.

  3. Girl Detective – Thanks for the counterpoint review. I can’t say I’ve read the other ones, but I’d agree with putting Catcher in the Rye up there pretty high.

    DebD – That was one of the things I liked about this book is that it wasn’t filled with stereotypical characters.

  4. Hmm. The title is interesting as I like to think of myself as a wallflower in situations where I’m unfamiliar and/or uncomfortable. There ARE perks to being a wallflower! This also sounds like interesting subject matter. I enjoyed your review. Thanks much!

  5. Awesome review. I really love this book and have read it a few times now. It’s on the list of my most favorite books actually. I’m very glad you liked it. The quotes are just amazing, I must agree. It’s just so…true.

    Also, I’m going to be interviewing the author, Stephen Chbosky, for my online zine in a couple days or so…so if you have any questions, please please send them my way ASAP!

    lauren51990 at aol dot com

  6. Michael, thanks for visiting my blog and commenting. I sent you an email but don’t know if it ended up in your spam box and didnt’ want you to think I am ungreatful for comments. Thanks also for the link about the spider… that was very cool.

  7. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: October 25, 2008 at Semicolon

  8. Hi there! 🙂

    I’m in the process of re-reading, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”. I just wanted to thank you for your great review – you took the words right out of my mouth.

    The first time around, I didn’t understand it completely. The context seemed…uninteresting, because I couldn’t relate. Only being a freshman, and having just entered High School a few short months ago, I have limited experiences, but I can relate to Charlie in so many ways. I’m a wallflower myself.

    Well, I’d like to rant on, but I might be boring you.

    Read my latest post on “Feeling Infinite”! 🙂

    – Alexis Liam

  9. Alexis —

    Thanks very much for the comment, nothing boring about it. From your own site, I think you “get” the book just fine. One thing to think about with those “Feeling infinite” moments is that one reason why they seem so powerful is that they are rare.

    Take care — Michael

  10. This book i something else. I absolutly love it. I finished it about three days ago but keep coming back to it for kicks. I like the music and books it refers to. I like the unique writing Charlie puts into this. I would marry Charlie if he were real, well he seems so real in my eye. Im still in high school so this book totally hits on all the real situatuations teenagers go through and experience. I think this book doesnt hide but rather exposes real life here on planet earth. The raw but beautiful truth of teenage life.

  11. Mari —

    Thanks much for your comment. I read this one a bit after high school — a bit after college, actually. But it still resonates even then, so there must be some truth to it.

    — Michael

  12. I just finished reading this book and I’m a freshmen in high school. As far as the sexual and drug stuff goes that’s no biggy, but I’m just not a big fan… I think it was because Charlie’s life as a freshmen is SO not realistic to any freshman’s life I know. It all just felt kind of wrong. In his letter’s Charlie’s thoughts sounded very young to me. It’s like he was so innocent and naive and yet he was smoking pot, and doing all kinds of other things associated with, say, a college student. It just felt odd to me…

  13. Allie –

    I have to admit you’re the first person I’ve heard from that didn’t like this book. It was written a while and I read it after college, so I could see how it might be getting dated (and how I might not catch that). I think the innocence of Charlie’s voice was intentional to bring out the sharp contrast of the very mature situations he faces. I have to say, though, that it’s refreshing to see a take on it that isn’t positive. No book can speak to everyone.

    Take care.

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