Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Even as I finish “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, I can’t help but think that while this book had its heart in the right place in several measures, it leaves me torn as to what to think about it in its aftermath. It deals with some very heavy themes – from suicide to homosexual relationships to domestic abuse to rape and molestation to drug abuse – all as interpreted in a series of letters written by Charlie – a socially inept, sheltered, yet reportedly intelligent high school freshman.

I’m going to first say this – “Perks of Being a Wallflower” is a decent book, but it is obviously not a book that will strike people in the same way, which is why I hesitate in recommending it. It’s really dependent on how you see it for what it offers. For me, there were parts I liked, but on the whole, I couldn’t help but think that other teen books have dealt with these themes with much DEEPER resonance than this book. “Perks” suffers from really trying to deal with too many themes in one go, and then not necessarily delving into them with as much conviction. It might be because we’re seeing through the filter that is Charlie with his respective issues and such, but I think his filter wasn’t strong or indicative of the character he’s purported to be.

Charlie’s a difficult character for me to have a firm handle on, at least in the way that Chbosky writes him. His voice starts out interestingly enough, even with bits of humor, but then peters out as the narrative goes on. It’s not that I didn’t understand some of the first times, the social awkwardness, the dealing with the issues his family has to confront, and ultimately the pain that resides within him. All of the conflict – internal and external – seems plausible, but its presentation is haphazard. Charlie has a difficult time expressing and being honest with himself and finding what works in his life for him. That is a legitimate concern for many teens of Charlie’s age, even through the letters he writes to the nameless “friend” in the work. But I’ll say again that the narrative doesn’t support it as well as it could’ve, because even with his cognitive limitations (seemingly taciturn and sheltered with a very low emotional tolerance), Charlie does not support the conviction and mature narrative needed for some of these events to hit home. I saw the ending coming well before it happened, and while that in and of itself struck me on some levels, the fact that I saw it coming felt like it’d added just one more notch to the emotional rollercoaster, rather than it being an event that broke my heart.

Also, I’m okay with characters showing emotion (i.e. crying) in a narrative – male or female, young or old, great and small, as long as the scenes are able to support it. There are so many ways you can show emotional conviction other than simply stating them. Authors who choose to tell, rather than show, these emotional states drive me up the wall and represent some of my deepest pet peeves in all of literature. Unfortunately, Chbosky overdoes the telling with the “he cried, she cried, I cried” narratives in this work and I just couldn’t get behind some of the scenes. Some of them were good (i.e. the scene where Charlie witnesses the exchange between his parents, his sister and brother in the car) but others distanced me from the story.

Overall, I honestly think it could’ve been a better book, but I think there were sparks in this narrative that did stand out, so I give it props for being worth the time spent. And I give it an extra half star because I liked the audiobook narrator – Johnny Heller, who gives an excellent performance of the work.

Overall score: 3/5

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