In case you are not yet aware, Stephen Chbosky’s novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, has been turned into a film starring geek darling Emma Watson (aka Hermione Granger). As a book nerd and signatory to Nerdfighteria’s Readit1st pledge, I am a passionate advocate for always reading the book before seeing the movie adaptation, and thus, in anticipation of the September 14th release of the film, here is a review of the novel so all you geek gals can go out and read it first! (No spoilers, I promise!)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is on its surface your basic bildungsroman—a coming-of age tale about the agonies and anxieties of high school and growing up. You have your typical snapshots and your well-known cast of characters. But what makes Perks such an unforgettable read, and where Chbosky really excels, are the things you don’t expect and can find almost nowhere else. The gay guy has an actual storyline, rather than just being a humorous supporting character. The beautiful untouchable girl has more than a few surprises up her sleeve. The lonely narrator finds that his habit of sitting on the sidelines and observing those around him is one of his biggest assets rather than his greatest liability.
The story is told through a series of letters that Charlie sends to a recipient identified only as someone who “didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though [they] could have”. Framed this way, we get the story from Charlie’s 15-year old and slightly naïve point of view. We experience the problems that he and his friends and family face with Charlie’s own heartbreaking honesty and compassion. Though these problems go far beyond the usual who’s-dating-who, but they never come across like some Glee “Very Special Episode” but rather are seamlessly integrated into the story and really help to flesh out and define these wonderfully complex and three-dimensional characters that Chbosky has introduced.
The story is beautiful, but ultimately what I loved and what you will remember about this book is the feeling you get – it’s this joie de vivre, love of life, uplifting, everything-is-going-to-be-okay feeling. Even though it will make you cry, it ultimately will comfort you and cheer you up afterwards. It’s this feeling that embodies the most famous quotation of the novel: “And in that moment, I swear we were infinite”.
While not every teenager will experience the same highs and lows that Charlie does, he is still an eminently relatable character. Like everyone, Charlie is not perfect, he makes mistakes, and he hurts others through his own thoughtlessness. But who among us has not sat on the sidelines and felt overwhelming gratitude towards the person or people who bring you into the crowd?
I give The Perks of Being A Wallflower 4 out of 5 stars. Seriously, go read this book before you see the movie; it’s 213 pages, it’ll take you less than two hours, and you will be a different person when you come out the other side.