The Perks of Being a WallflowerThe Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Charlie has a secret, a big secret that’s eating at him, the kind of secret that makes you sick inside. Even his outsides aren’t doing so well. He faces freshman year in high school, feeling like an outcast. His best friend in the world, his Aunt Helen, has died in a tragic car accident on his birthday which happens to fall on Christmas Eve so to say the holidays are hard for him is an understatement.

Charlie, however, takes a chance and approaches a senior named Patrick. Patrick told their shop teacher, “Call me Patrick or call me nothing,” so of course the teacher and students followed suit and started calling him nothing, but Charlie respects him enough to call him by his real name when they bump into each other at the school football game. Patrick’s got his own secrets, namely the fact that he’s dating the star quarterback of the team, Brad, and Brad is desperate to avoid other people from finding out. Meanwhile, Charlie develops a crush on Patrick’s stepsister Sam, but he manages, for the most part, to keep his feelings from her. Soon, Patrick and Sam’s friends become Charlie’s friends, and he learns about the trials and tribulations of adolescence in the process, especially as he goes on a date with Mary Elizabeth, a girl he likes, but doesn’t really like, at least not in that way. Charlie tries to navigate these murky waters without having another nervous breakdown in the process, something that seems a definite possibility.

The confessional quality of the narrative which is written as a series of letters to an imaginary friend, the reader, makes this the most compelling novel I’ve read this summer. It’s hard to find a fresh approach to the well worn tales of teen angst, but Stephen Chbosky, who turned his own novel into a film, pulls it off brilliantly. He accurately captures the teenage penchant for living life through books, music, and films, in particular the movie “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and songs like The Smith’s anthem, “Asleep.” How much do most of us spend the better part of our lives, “asleep.” This gang of misfits forges a strong bond together, and we learn in the process, through Charlie’s influential English teacher, that “we accept the love we think we deserve.” Sam seemingly settles for a poor substitute for the love she clearly deserves, and it is up to Charlie to show her exactly how special she is.

Charlie teaches the reader, his “dear friend,” what it is to feel infinite, if only for a moment. We are reminded of the special fragility of youth, and find ourselves hoping that Charlie too will learn how special he is.

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