You know how you read some books that are supposed to be in the voice of a teenager and, to put it kindly, you know they're not?
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is not one of those books.
The voice of the narrator is spot-on. Stephen Chbosky wrote a story in a series of letters to "a friend." The story takes place over a school year, which is a lifetime in a teenager's life. Charlie's narrative is very simple, yet very revealing.
From the beginning, Charlie seems a bit off — distant, an observer rather than a participant.
Charlie's life has been derailed by the death of his favorite aunt. He missed a year of school, but he's trying to get back into the swing of things. Slowly, Charlie unveils the story of his life and those of the people around him. It's a rich and powerful world — and it's exactly how I remember high school being, which is probably why it is one of the most challenged books of 2007, according to the American Library Association.
It has everything an inappropriate book for youths might have, starting with the suicide of one of Charlie's friends. Charlie reports how guidance counselors respond to confused and grieving students, some of whom make wildly courageous and pained remarks. It's clear that the world of teens is very different than that of the adults around them.
Bill, Charlie's English teacher, recognizes Charlie's intelligence and perceptiveness, and gives him different books to read in addition to what the rest of the class is reading. The variety in these books speaks to Charlie's intelligence, and Charlie discusses some of them in his letters. Charlie writes essays about some of the books, each of which becomes his favorite. When Bill and Charlie discuss them, the new teacher encourages Charlie to participate. Thinking is good, Bill says, but too much thinking distances you from the world. Be a part of it.
So Charlie becomes a part of what he sees when he meets two new people at a football game: Sam and Patrick. These new friends, who are step-siblings to each other, introduce him to a variety of people who would be otherwise outside his experience: Craig, Brian, Mary Elizabeth. His observations on friendship are deep and moving.
We meet Charlie's entire family: his mother, a housewife and the only one who can speak with Charlie when he starts to lose it; his father, who tries to take care of his family as best he can; his brother, a football star at Penn State; his sister, a senior at his high school. We also meet his extended family, all revealed with their charms and foibles through the keen eye of the observer.
With each letter, Charlie reveals more of himself and his situation, his emotions and his perceptions. He thinks about the private lives of his friends and family with an open heart. The reader knows there's as much to be gleaned by what is not said, and Charlie doesn't disappoint. His revelations are deliberate, measured and powerful. By the end of the book, everything in Charlie's live is revealed, from who the friend is to why he gets so upset on his birthday.
There are golden moments, phrases that will stick in the reader's mind. His use of language is appropriate for a young man of his age, sensitivity and intelligence. His observations are crystal clear and honest. A reader could learn a lot from Charlie.
Every generation has a book that has it "all," and this is the book for the MTV generation. (In fact, it was published by MTV in 1999.) The story includes suicide, pregnancy, physical abuse, homosexuality, masturbation, abortion, drug use, mental illness, sexual abuse, literature and more. It's the kind of book we used to pass from student to student, some pages dog-eared, others with obvious watermarks (small and round, you know the kind). It explains a lot in a way we could understand, and it made us all feel less like the freaks we were sure we were.
It is a fabulous book, beautifully written, poignant and revealing. I enjoyed it immensely and highly recommend it.
By the way, I checked it out from my public library. ¡Viva la biblioteca!