Tuesday, December 31, 2013

#70 (2013/CBR5) "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky

This will be my last book and book review for 2013. I definitely don't have time to read and review another one, and I'm already looking forward to Cannonball Read 6 and the books I'll be reading next year.

"I just wish that God or my parents or Sam or my sister or someone would just tell me what's wrong with me. Just tell me how to be different in a way that makes sense. To make this all go away. And disappear. I know that's wrong because it's my responsibility, and I know that things get worse before they get better because that's what my psychiatrist says, but this is a worse that feels too big." (139)

 The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999) by Stephen Chbosky was a book I would not have read if it weren't for my new book club. I saw the movie, which was all right, but I was distracted by Hermione and I didn't love it. I also rarely read a book after having seen the movie. The visuals from the movie are too strong and interfere with my imagination. But it's a short book, so I figured I could suck it up for my friends. And I liked it! Much more than the movie. Charlie's insight and inner thoughts came across much more clearly for me in writing than on the screen. Not that the movie did a bad job, it just has its limits. I still wish I'd read the book before seeing the movie, but I'm glad I read it.

Charlie is about to start his Freshman year of high school. He's been hospitalized for emotional problems. He doesn't fit in, and he struggles to be happy. The book is a series of letters to a stranger that Charlie writes--almost like a diary to help him deal with high school. They cover his entire Freshman year, the relationship he has with his parents and siblings, his new friends Patrick and Sam [Samantha], and his fantastic English teacher, Bill. Charlie recounts his first love, his first high and other common coming-of-age experiences from his relatable, astute, and unique perspective.

Some of what I admired most about this book was Charlie's clear and honest view of the world. He sees everything that goes on around him with sensitivity and intelligence and he recounts what he sees with a sweet honesty, lack of judgment, and a will for those around him to be happy. I was immediately drawn in by Charlie's descriptions of his family:

"Sometimes my dad calls her beautiful, but she cannot hear him." (16)

"I wasn't raised very religiously because my parents went to Catholic school, but I do believe in God very much." (27)

SPOILERS: The secret Charlie doesn't even know he's hiding that comes out at the end of the book is that Charlie was molested as a child by his beloved aunt. Who knows to what extent this has caused Charlie's current problems. His feelings about his aunt are very complicated. I already knew about the molestation before I saw the movie, and definitely before I read this book, but I was wondering if I would have picked up on it if I weren't expecting it. I really can't say. Anyway, Charlie's past adds another layer to Charlie's life and what he's going through. Yet with all the heartbreak surrounding him, the book ends on a positive note with some helpful life lessons.

"Charlie, we accept the love we think we deserve." (24)

"So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we'll never know most of them. But even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where to go from there." (211)

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