Friday, October 5, 2012
Pages: 224 (paperback)
Synopsis: This is the story of what it's like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie's letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.
Through Charlie, Stephen Chbosky has created a deeply affecting coming-of-age story, a powerful novel that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller coaster days known as growing up.
In a li'l bit of words: Sweetly poignant and told by an endearing and wonderful teenage narrator in a series of letters to a mysterious "friend", Wallflower is the best contemporary YA book I've read in a long time.
In a lotta words: I confess that I always skipped over the skinny spine of The Perks of Being a Wallflower in my high school library. I had some vague notion that it was considered an "edgy" book and had been on a lot of banned books lists, but honestly at the time I was more interested in reading about teenage wizards and dragon riders than mostly ordinary teenagers going to high school-- a setting which I mistakenly thought I'd had more than enough of in real life. But the thing is, Charlie's life isn't ordinary at all-- it's "both happy and sad", filled with beautifully-realized and sometimes painfully-flawed characters who come to life on the pages of Charlie's letters.
Charlie as a narrator was what made this book special to me-- yes, I think I may have joined the legions of readers and re-readers who sing Wallflower's praises. Charlie is an incredibly sweet, thoughtful, and intelligent 15-year old, and really just an altogether excellent human being. He can be incredibly emotional: sad one moment and feeling free and "infinite" a few pages later. Charlie relates the story of his life, and the lives of his friends and family who he's a confidante to, with a mixture of understanding insight and naive acceptance. The way he signs all his letters with "Love always, Charlie" was so endearing. I liked all the other characters-- Sam and Patrick, Charlie's sister, and even Mary Elizabeth (a bossy girl Charlie somehow ends up dating)--, but Charlie was the one I could have read another couple of books about. His dilemma between knowing that he should probably try to "participate" in high school and in life and his instinctual urge to listen and sit back and observe rang really true with me, as I'm sure it does with a lot of introverts.
Contemporary YA novels often seem to have tired plots and character stereotypes-- ie the jock, the stoner, the goth girl. There are a few of such types in Wallflower, but I'm not sure how much this reflects genre conventions and how much it reflects real life. (Being an older, popular book, Wallflower might actually have inspired a lot of YA conventions.) This was a book both comfortably (and sometimes sadly, as the teenagers go through really hard things like the suicide of a friend, an unwanted pregnancy, and emotional problems) familiar and refreshingly unique. Charlie's way of storytelling through letters and his voice make Wallflower a compulsively readable and inevitably thought-provoking book.