Monday, July 23, 2012

The Perks of Being A Wallflower: A Book Review

There are NO SPOILERS in this review. Enjoy. (:

"We accept the love we think we deserve."

For the longest time, I have been resisting to read Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being A Wallflower. And no offense to Mr. Chbosky or any fans of his book, but once I heard it was a coming-of-age novel that involved parties, drugs, and hormonal teenagers, I immediately wrote it off as "not for me."

However, I recently read some blurbs about it, specifically one from USA Today that claims it's "in the tradition of The Catcher in the Rye," and I was immediately sold. (The Catcher in the Rye is one of my favorite books. You can read about the rest of my favorites books here.) So, I decided to finally give it a try. It seemed like a reasonably small book, so if for whatever reason I did end up hating it (which I highly doubted because I rarely hate books), relatively little time would have been wasted.

(photographed: Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being A Wallflower)

For those of you living in a cave here is the back cover description:

"It is the story of what it's like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie's lettters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates, family dramas, and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where all you need is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.

Through Charlie, Chbosky has created a deeply affecting novel that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller coaster days known as growing up."

So rather then rant for a lengthy paragraph filled with adjectives about what I felt about The Perks of Being A Wallflower, I'm going to use the Hank Green method and write my own blurb for the novel.

My blurb for The Perks of Being A Wallflower: "Chobsky takes the skeletal structure of your typical coming-of-age novel and morphs it into a surprisingly inspirational story of the importance of realizing your own situation, passions, and desires and acting on them, that doesn't just relate to teenagers, but to anyone who feels they could use some growing (namely everyone)."

From my blurb, you can see that my experience with this novel was pleasantly different than I anticipated, and I'm grateful that I didn't miss out on this reading experience. Two thumbs up for Stephen Chbosky. (:

I've failed to mention this before in any previous book review, but when I finish a book, there are two things that I immediately do:

1. I reread the title.

I realize that rereading a title sounds silly, but a lot of the time, book titles are very abstract and aren't are clear cut as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. And even in the case of that book, I was still curious who the prisoner of Azkaban was. So by rereading the title I got to reflect on how much that book was building up Harry's relationship with Sirius. But before I get off topic, I always reread the title, because I know how much conscious decision must go into titles, and how it normally reflects a major theme/conflict that the author is spending hundred or thousands of pages writing about.

So, the perks of being a wallflower. What is a wallflower? The dictionary defines it as: a person who has no one to dance with or who feels shy, awkward, or excluded at a party. That definition is what I primarily knew a wallflower to be. However, early on in the book a character defines a wallflower as one who "sees things," keeps "quiet about them," and "understands." That's a much more positive way to define it. But what are the "perks" of being this type of person? Why would you want to be someone who merely absorbs?

The answer for me, which you can disagree with, is that there aren't any. I realize my answer is somewhat "cheating," but that is the impression that the novel left on me. There are no perks or benefits to being someone who is constantly passive. Perspective is a beautiful thing, and as a friend it's an admirable to trait to be able to sit and listen to those around you, but to be a wallflower is to be a mute, unheard individual in society.

So before I forget, here's the second thing I always do when I finish a book:

2. I reread the first chapter, or in the case that there's no chapters, the first few pages.

In the case of Chobsky's book, I reread Charlie's first letter. I feel like this decision to reread the beginning of the novel is especially important with first-person narrators who are conscious of the fact that they are telling a story to listeners/readers (readers in this case). Charlie, the narrator is conscious of the fact that he is writing letters for a reader, his "friend." Therefore, the way Charlie chooses to introduce himself is important to take note of.

In rereading Charlie's first letter, I think I learned more about him then I did the first time. It's the same words, but different perspective for me as a reader. Not often in life can you watch someone make mistakes and flip back the pages of their lives to learn when and why they do what they do. But that's the lovely thing about books.

I won't reveal too much, but in the first letter Charlie introduces the idea that "some people have it worse." This concept of telling someone who's hurt that someone has it worse is one that Charlie revisits later in the novel and is primarily why I love rereading the beginning of novels. The beginning and ending of novels work so much like fun house mirrors. In the end, you can see the reflection of the beginning much like you recognize that that the distorted creature in the mirror is wearing your clothes and has your hair color, but it's distorted in a way that you question whether or not that person in the mirror is even a person at all. Because in a book about growth and experiencing passion, particularly what I consider to an effective book, it's impossible to leave the same way you came in.

And lastly, because I think I have gone on long enough, and because I always have to quote something, aside from the quote I began this post with, here is my other favorite line from the whole book:

"I feel infinite."

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