Thursday, August 16, 2012

REVIEW: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbotsky

Rating: 5/5 Stars
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Coming-of-age, Epistolary Novels
Audience: Older Teen/Young Adult, Adult Crossover
Format: Audiobook

Summary: Fifteen-year-old high school freshman Charlie is anxious about starting high school, especially after his only friend committed suicide last year. So he chooses an unnamed stranger as his confidante. Over the course of a year, he sends anonymous letters describing his triumphs and tribulations as he befriends two seniors who welcome him into their eccentric group of friends and show him how to engage with the world.

First Line: "Dear Friend, I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn't try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have."   

Tracy's Thoughts:
Charlie is now one of my all-time favorite book characters. His narrative voice is one of the strongest I've ever read, engaging and startling in its naive honesty. Charlie is unguarded about his emotions, often to the bafflement of those around him, and honestly clueless about many of the basics of social interaction. Take the following passage between Charlie and his older sister:
"I hate you."
My sister said it different than she said it to my dad. She meant it with me. She really did.
"I love you," was all I could say in return.
"You're a freak, you know that? Everyone says so. They always have."
"I'm trying not to be."
He is vulnerable, awkward, and sometimes downright brilliant. In a word, he has depth. The book's other characters, including the "unconventionally beautiful" Sam and her stepbrother Patrick, are equally well drawn and likeable. This book's story and characters seem completely real, and it is almost impossible not to relate to them no matter how different your life may be.

Wallflower has been frequently compared to classic coming-of-age novels like The Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace. But although it addresses a lot of "issues"—suicide, sex, drugs, depression, abuse, homosexuality, bullying, teen pregnancy, etc.—it's not all angst. Instead, it is a completely engrossing story full of hilarity, heartbreak, and inspiration. There were parts that made me laugh out loud; others left me stunned, anxious, saddened, hopeful. Although this book was published over a decade ago, it speaks to an age-old high school experience. It doesn't feel outdated at all, though I could be a bit biased considering I was a high school student myself in the 90s. But considering the movie adaptation is coming out next month—featuring what promises to be a very un-Hermione role for Emma Watson—I don't think I could be too biased. (The cast also includes Logan Lerman from the Percy Jackson movies as Charlie, with Paul Rudd, Mae Whitman, Vampire Diaries' Nina Dobrev, and others.)

In addition to the excellent characterizations and well-crafted story, I love how Charlie relates to so much through books and music. (As we've covered before, I am a sucker for books featuring characters who have a special relationship with books and/or music.)  For me, The Perks of Being a Wallflower more than lived up to its reputation. I loved it, which in turn makes me a bit wary of the upcoming movie adaptation. But since Stephen Chbotsky wrote the screenplay and directed as well, I have faith the film will remain true to the novel. Here's the official trailer, in case you haven't seen it yet:

I don't actually go to the movies very often (the last movie I saw was The Hunger Games), but I am looking forward to seeing this one. What about you? Do you plan to see the movie adaptation when it comes out?

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