THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky, 213pages, $ Prices Vary at Amazon
Charlie has a secret. Of course he must have. Why else would he burst into tears after he beats a bully bloody in the hallway of his new high school. It’s a secret we find out about later, and Charlie doesn’t even know he’s been carrying that secret most of his life. Sometimes our minds make us forget. For good reason.
He’s bright, would rather read than do anything else, and sits on the perimeter of other peoples lives watching them interact, changing personalities from one year to the next. After his one true friend kills himself, Charlie has nothing in common with anyone until he meets an odd pair at the school football game. One of them is a guy he knows from his shop class, the only non adult who’s actually watching the game. He’s a friendly boy named Patrick sitting with his step sister Sam, a beautiful girl with green eyes and pretty brown hair.
They’re an odd pair, and take to Charlie as fast as he takes to them. For the first time in his life, he becomes part of a group who love books and talking about life at the local Big Boy. Patrick and Sam’s friends introduce him to music, esoteric thought and recreation in all of its sensual forms.
This is the story of a boy who awakens to the world around him, discovering the value of friends who love him, and one teacher who helps him understand the importance of participating in that world. One friend in particular unlocks the dark secret he had hidden from his own memory and frees him from a darkness that has plagued and controlled him since his early childhood.
This book is written like a series of letters and after the first few pages readers might ask themselves if they’re in a mood for what feels initially like an awkward style of narrative. But the story takes on a life that breaks through the boundaries of the form with good story telling. Charlie’s friends become our friends and his world becomes our world.
The language is contrived somewhat to give the reader the impression of Charlie’s innocence. From time to time the device calls attention to itself and gets in the way a bit, but there’s a good reason that Hollywood has decided to make this one into a film. It is a Catcher in the Rye for our new age. The story places no judgement on its young characters as they test the boundaries of their minds and sexuality, as each discovers and accepts who they are. They discover in Charlie’s words “That they are infinite”.
Recommended for ages 14 and up. It would be an especially good book for classroom study. The Yaroos! Team gives “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” 4 stars out of 5.