Are There Really Perks to Being a Wallflower? A Contemplative Book Review

Perks of a WallflowerMy most recent WIP deals with some pretty heavy topics – sexual abuse, drug use, sociopaths up to no good, pre-marital what? – and it all takes place in a treatment center for teens. Needless to say, I’ve received some unusual must-read book recommendations from other writers when they’ve learned about the subject matter. I do love reading books that are similar to what I’m writing – it’s actually important to do this for many reasons, but I won’t go into that now; I’ve already talked about why as a writer you should read here and here.

Some of the suggested reads were fantastic, some were okay, and some were totally awful and unrealistic – having worked in a psychiatric facility with teens, it really makes me crazy (no pun intended) when someone who hasn’t done their homework spouts off a bunch of bullshit that a reader might actually take seriously. Sorry, major pet peeve.

I’ve also read so many depressing books over the past few years, that I think I need to write a romantic comedy for my next book. I’m in need of a little lightness of being, if you know what I’m saying. (Hint, hint: Give me some funny book suggestions – please!)

One recent book recommendation that came from several sources was a delightful surprise: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.

standing on the fringes of life . . .

offers a unique perspective. but there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.

the perks of being a wallflower is a story about what it’s like to travel that strange course through the uncharted territory of high school. the world of first dates, family dramas, and new friends. of sex, drugs, and the rocky horror picture show.

of those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

The voice of this story was so spot on.

We fumble right along with Charlie (whose name isn’t really Charlie, but it’s the only name we’re ever given) as he navigates his first year of high school, hoping to find a friend after his only friend committed suicide. We feel the awkwardness of his first relationship and the heartache of love unrequited. Charlie is such an unusual and memorable character. We can tell from early on that his brain doesn’t work quite like everyone else’s just by the way he describes the scenes of his life events; we as the readers get some of the social cues that he totally misses. We also are left to piece some things together that are too painful for Charlie to talk about. Once we do, his eccentricities and aggressive outbursts make a lot more sense. The music references added such a nice layer of detail and brought back so many memories. I love that the story is set in the 90s – well, it was written in the late 90s, so of course it felt authentic to the time – but whatever, the story still feels relevant for today.

What made this story so intriguing, so intimate, was the letter-writing format. Charlie can’t confide in anyone he knows, but he needs to get some things off his chest, so he writes about his life through a series of letters to an anonymous stranger that he heard others talk of fondly in passing. Somehow he thinks this means the person he’s writing to will understand him. This person is never named, only called, “Dear Friend”. Although some stories written in letter or diary format can lose a sense of closeness when we only “see” events after they’ve happened or learn about them through hearsay, this one does not let us down. I really enjoyed watching how Charlie’s letter-writing evolved throughout the story, once his English teacher tutors him, takes him under his wing, to expand on the innate ability he recognizes in Charlie.

An overall bittersweet, lovely story. Three thumbs up.

I know this was made into a film, recently, and now I can’t wait to see it. If for no other reason, to see how in the hell they translated this into a movie. That couldn’t have been easy.

Learn more about Stephen Chbosky here.

Shortly after starting this book, I came across this blog post at The Indextrious Reader’s blog.

She started a fairly painless, yet creative challenge for the new year postalreadingchallenge buttoncalled The Postal Reading Challenge which involves agreeing to read and review books about letters and letter writing; anything with a postal theme will do. You can find links from her blog with beaucoups de postal reading suggestions. You can also find the links list of all the other people participating in this challenge so you can check out their reviews.

There are many levels of participation. I signed up and aimed low so as not to overly stress myself. I hope to read and review at least four books with a postal theme before the end of December.  Why don’t you join us? Sounds like fun.

6 thoughts on “Are There Really Perks to Being a Wallflower? A Contemplative Book Review

  1. I’ve checked this one in and out at the library so often, and yet haven’t yet read it. I love how you detail the good points here — I think next time I see it I will check it out for myself! Thanks for joining in to add more postal reads to the list for Postal Reading Challenge!

  2. Ah, I LOVE this book! I broke down and read it after, oh, 20 or so agents I follow online recommended it for YA contemp writers.

    The movie is OUTSTANDING. I was hesitant because, well, the movie is never as good as the book IMO. Same here, but the movie was almost as good, and better in small ways, so…I hope you love it!

    1. i can definitely see why all those agents would recommend it for YA contemp writers. oh, now i can’t wait to see it on the big screen, or my slightly over-sized little screen..

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