Heather Hamilton's Reviews > The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
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's review
Jun 23, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: banned, audiobook, year-2012, epistolary
Read from June 01 to 23, 2012

A bit heavy, but utterly fascinating, in a watching-a-car-wreck kind of way.

This novel, which made my to-read list simply because it was on a banned books list, really had my mind turning upon finishing it, so much so, that I am still barely able to get on here and flesh out my thoughts in a coherent way. So I apologize for that now.

This story, and the way it is told, embodies the reasons I struggle with the superficial and naive coming-of-age fiction that floods the shelves today. It is often chock full of stereotypical teen roles, with some fairly naive protagonist that frets over finding love and acceptance with their peers. And in the end, they either find true love, or they decide acceptance from their peers is overrated. Many times, they dump their struggles and concerns upon a "higher power" and call it good.

My problem with such resolutions is that I feel they are unrealistic, and shouldn't really be called "resolutions". Because life doesn't end when you finish high school, and it doesn't end when you find true love, and it doesn't end when you decide to think more for and about yourself than anyone else. This is when life BEGINS. How you use the lessons you've learned in the new and ever-approaching challenges in your life is the next chapter.

This book was on a banned books list because it touches upon uncomfortable subjects--homosexuality, drug and alcohol use, abuse, sex, suicide, rape, and abortion, to name a few. But I don't believe that shunning these topics makes them better, or makes me better, or somehow shames them into non-existence. And having a personal experience with any of these things doesn't make a person evil, misguided, unlovable, or pitiable. It does make life seem very much like a minefield. No one walks a minefield and comes out unscathed.

As for the actual story, one of my critiques is that Charlie, the protagonist, sounded ridiculously immature. Throughout the story, one wonders if he is actually 7 instead of 15, or if he is autistic, or has some other mental incapacity. The truth doesn't come out until the very end, the reasons for Charlie's naivete and awkwardness, and I don't want to spoil it, so just know, if you read it, that he isn't mentally deficient in any way. Since I listened to the audiobook, it could be the narrator's voice or affect that made me feel this way, but others' reviews mention this point as well, so I'm not sure how it would have come across if I had read the narrative.

I'm also critical about the time period of the book. The fact that it is told through Charlie's letters to a mysterious "friend", that we never learn the identity of, tells us that this is early 90s, but it reads like the late 70s, very hippie-ish, or early 80s, and Wonder Years-esque. Someone in another review labeled this as having a "lack of relevant cultural references".

Ultimately, I love this book. Despite it's heaviness, constant flood of taboo topics, and it's unrealistic teenage voice, it is a book that will leave you exhausted-in-a-good-way, nostalgic, and with a bittersweet taste in your brain. I am sad that one cannot possibly appreciate the intricacies or perspectives until you get to the end and unravel "the secret". This is probably one that will deserve a second read, and I will love it more at that time. Now I understand it's praise as a cult classic.

If everyone could handle it, it would make a great book club read, because I am certain that what you take from this book is very much dependent upon the type of person you were when you were a teenager, whether popular and well-liked, or brainy, a troublemaker, comedian. It would be fun to discuss with my friends.

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