~Reviewed by Isha Kelaskar
Book: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Author: Stephen Chbosky
Published On: 1 February, 1999
TRIGGER WARNING: Substance abuse, sexual abuse, suicidal thoughts, mental health issues. There are instances of sexual abuse and suicide throughout the novel.
A socially awkward Teen, Charlie is a wallflower who has difficulty fitting in with his classmates; he lives his lids on the side-lines; until he meets Sam and Patrick, also his seniors. They both change Charlie’s life while he copes up with the loss of his best friend who attempted suicide and his hysterical past.
With the help of Sam who is a free-spirited human and Goofy Patrick, he discovers the bond of friendships, first love, music however his life is a roller coaster ride, never know what to expect apart from fun and adventure and making memories.
We can’t choose where we come from but we can choose where we go from there
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an epistolary novel; written as a series of letters addressed to an anonymous friend. The reader never learns who this “friend” is, and this friend also never writes back. These letters are represented in the form of diary entries as the “friend” never writes back. Each letter starts with, “Dear Friend,” and ends with “Love always, Charlie”.
In these letters, he describes his feelings, events taking place in his life basically a detailed summary of a particular instance in his life along with his views regarding the instance. The author has smartly added instances of what young adults go through, themes such as mental health, substance abuse, and sexuality. It’s a trip down puberty and adolescence. The author narrates Charlie’s deteriorating mental health in various instances having him see sadness wherever he goes.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is written from Charlie’s perspective, a 15-year-old young teen entering freshman year of high school in 1991. Charlie enters his freshman year with a lot of baggage on his shoulder of a recent loss of his only best friend since middle school who committed suicide apart from mourning for his friend he also lost his favourite aunt who passed away in a car crash when he was a kid on Christmas eve, which is also Charlie’s birthday.
As he enters his academic life, Bill, his English teacher, is introduced as a supporting character wherein he suggests Charlie some books and asks him to bring in essays on the books over the year. He slowly starts participating and on the game night, he makes a conversation with Patrick the goofy one. Who knew his life was about to make serious twists and turns?
The same night Charlie is introduced to Sam, a free-spirited person and also Patrick’s step-sister. We gradually see that Charlie starts falling for Sam, his first love. He soon joins their lunch table and he makes new friends, where he also finds his first girlfriend. He goes to his first party, drinks booze, and enjoys his heart out like he never did before. He soon finds comfort in the huge crowd. His diverse friend circle is just the start.
The author discusses sexuality via 3 generations of Charlie’s very own family. Charlie’s grandfather doesn’t hug his family members, especially the male members. Moving on to his father, Charlie as a little kid, kissed guys in his neighbourhood which concerned his father. Charlie’s acceptance of Patrick’s gay character in the novel portrays society’s changing perspective about the acceptance of homosexuality in the 1990s.
Of the many instances in the novel, there is this one particular instance where Charlie finds out what the world actually is. After watching a movie, he strangles himself in a deep web of thoughts where he comes to the conclusion that the world isn’t a fair place. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and vice versa. He realizes all of this after watching a movie where a poor innocent man is sent to jail for a crime he didn’t commit.
Throughout the novel, the readers observe that Charlie, slowly at his pace, is trying to accept the major traumatic events from his past. but he doesn’t even realize that he has repressed memories of still more trauma subconsciously. Charlie’s struggles with depression, among other mental health issues are either depicted via letter or the way he sees the world.
Eventually, the author reveals that Charlie had been also traumatized for years by sexual abuse. He was so young that he didn’t even realize, yet there were constant flashbacks and memories which he subconsciously repressed. He does confess about this when he’s taken to a mental hospital after his parents find him in a catatonic state.
The Perks of Being a wallflower is a dark novel. Yet it is a ray hope telling yet another story based on a particular theme no one wants to talk about.
The most common question asked by people is, ”What is exactly going on in their head?”
The Perks of Being a Wallflower might just as well bring you a step closer to understanding a person who does deal with mental health issues. It is also about overcoming fears, talking to someone, supporting. It might sound like an emotional roller coaster yet at the same time it’s beautiful. Chbosky has done a seamless job of balancing hopeful writing with tragic events.