Nov 13, 2008

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The protagonist of The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a fifteen-year-old boy named Charlie. During his first year of highschool, Charlie writes letters to someone whose identity is never quite revealed. Charlie begins by saying, I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have. The full meaning of these words is only revealed later in the book.

Charlie is a sensitive, shy and smart boy who has to deal with a lot. Early in the book, we discover that his best friend, Michael, committed suicide. We are also told that he still grieves the death of his Aunt Helen, the person in his family he felt the closest to. Charlie’s letters describe his experiences during a year, and they tackle themes like loneliness, confusion, suicide, homosexuality, abuse, drug usage, and books.

I honestly can’t think of a book that stayed on my wishlist for longer than this one, and now I wish more than ever that I’d got to it sooner, because I could hardly have loved it more. Charlie is such a smart, honest, sweet and genuinely nice kid. All through the book I wanted to give him a hug, and the fact that he isn’t actually real barely crossed my mind at all. The way he writes is extremely simple, but it’s touching and insightful at the same time. And above all, it felt so real to me.

I know that all sorts of books with young protagonists get compared to The Catcher in the Rye, and therefore saying this has become almost meaningless. But Charlie’s voice really did remind me of Holden’s. Both of them sound young, but not necessarily immature young. They sound like kids who are confused about things, but really do want to figure them out. And both of them are so honest. And they’re smart, but very much unaware of how smart they are.

Charlie is someone who truly cares about people. He loves his friends and family unreservedly, but he can be clumsy when it comes to expressing how he feels, and sometimes he hurts others without quite realizing how or why. But throughout the book, we get to see him getting better and better at dealing with people, and losing some of his anxiety and fear.

One of my favourite things about the book was Charlie’s relationship with his English teacher, Bill. Bill gives Charlie a lot of books to read – books that the rest of the class isn’t being asked to read – and has him write essays about them. These include The Catcher in the Rye (of course), On the Road, To Kill a Mockingbird, Peter Pan, Hamlet, The Stranger, Walden, and more. And at one point, Charlie says the following:
I am starting to see a real trend in the kind of books Bill gives me to read. And just like the tape of songs, it is amazing to hold each of them in the palm of my hand. They are all my favourites. All of them.
He also says, Sometimes, I think Bill forgets that I am sixteen. But I am very happy that he does, which echoes my suspicion that it’s better to give teenagers books that will challenge them and make them think than to just assume they won’t understand anything.

Charlie is as passionate about music as he is about books. The bands he listens to include The Smiths, Nick Drake and The Smashing Pumpkins, and I had to smile, because when I was around his age I was discovering these very same bands. And they changed my life too. The book particularly mentions the Smiths song “Asleep”, a song that, like Charlie, I’d play over and over again.

One last thing: there’s a surprising revelation towards the end of the book, and although I of course won’t spoil it for you, I just wanted to say how much I liked the way it was dealt with. Basically, Charlie has to deal with something terrible coming from someone he loves, and the book didn’t oversimplify things in the least. Charlie’s love for the person is still there, and it is one of the main reasons why he is so hurt, why everything is so difficult to deal with. And you don’t often see books acknowledging this when dealing with this particular issue.

A few of my favourite passages:
There is this one photograph of Sam that is just beautiful. It would be impossible to describe how beautiful it is, but I’ll try. If you listen to the song “Asleep”, and you think about those pretty weather days that make you remember things, and you think about the prettiest eyes you’ve ever known, and you cry, and the person holds you back, then I think you will see the photograph.

I feel ashamed, though, because that night, I had a weird dream about Sam. And we were both naked. And her legs were spread over the side of the couch. And I woke up. And I had never felt that good in my life. But I also felt bad because I saw her naked without her permission. I think I should tell Sam about this, and I really hope it does not prevent us from maybe making up inside jokes of our own. It would be very nice to have a friend again. I would like that even more than a date.

I have spent the whole vacation reading Hamlet. Bill was right. It was much easier to think of the kid in the play like the other characters I’ve read about so far. It has also helped me while I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong with me. It didn’t give me any answers necessarily, but it was helpful to know that someone else has been through it. Especially someone who lived such a long time ago.

Other Opinions:

books i done read
Mari Reads
Bart's Bookshelf
Hello, My Name is Alice
Books Lists Life
where troubles melt like lemon drops
Piling on the Books
Everyday Reads

(Let me know if I missed yours.)


  1. amazing!!! i am DEFINITELY going to read this one! I loved the cover and thought that the image was very apt for the title and then I read your review and loved that as well.. i am immediately putting this on my wishlist:)i am beginning to like charlie just based on your review.. can't wait to read the book now!:)

  2. OK, I think I'm going to get this book today! It sounds incredible and your review was so good Nymeth! I've always loved coming of age stories and when you add in The Smiths, Nick Drake, and the Pumpkins, I feel just like Ramya, I'm liking Charlie already just from reading your review, lol.

  3. I've had this one on my TBR list and now it's on my list of books to get from the library next time (which will be in a while since I just got a new batch). I've heard that this book is good, but this is the first explanation WHY. Thanks!

  4. That sounds great, I think I'll put it on my wishlist too.

  5. This statement:

    "I honestly can’t think of a book that stayed on my wishlist for longer than this one, and now I wish more than ever that I’d got to it sooner, because I could hardly have loved it more."

    has made me reconsider just keeping the title on my TBR list. It's only been on there for a little over a year, but maybe I shouldn't let it sit much longer. Thanks for the heads up, Nymeth!

  6. Loved your review, and I'm going to add this to my wish list on Amazon, even though I generally don't read many YA books.

  7. What a great post - I've been meaning to read this for about four years now.

  8. What a beautiful review Ana. I am going to order this book from my library, right now. i can do it from my pc. Thank-you for introducing me to this novel it has been a while since I got lost in a book

  9. I adored this book when I read it a few years ago, and I have been meaning to re-read it ever since. I agree that Charlie is such a likable protagonist. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  10. I read this one many years ago and at the time I liked it but I wasn't bowled over by it. However, it's one of those books that's actually gotten better with time. I remember a good deal of it and wrote down some of the same passages you have here. I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

  11. Ramya: He's one of the most likeable teen protagonists ever, I think. I hope you enjoy the book!

    Chris: Do! This has your name written all over it. It wasn't quite as brilliant as Looking for Alaska, for example, but it's still on my list of favourite YA books. And of course, all the cool music references make it even better!

    Bookworm, I hope you enjoy it! Despite having heard about this book for years, I didn't really know what it was about either.

    Lisa and Joy, I hope you both enjoy it. And Joy, sometimes books stay on my tbr list for so long that I forget why I even wanted to read them to begin with. Then often when I get to them I'm surprised by how good they are!

    Verbatim: I've actually been reading quite a lot of YA this year, and I think this is one of the best!

    Janseen, glad you liked it! I honestly had this on my wishlist since I was about 16 myself.

    Madeleine, I hope this one does it for you! It's very readable, so hopefully it will be a solution for your reading slump.

    Charley: He really is :)

    Andi: I wonder if I'd have felt the same way if I'd read it back then. Like I was telling Joy, I wanted to read it for so long that I actually forgot why, which means that I got to it now with no expectations.

  12. This sounds so good. I think when the writing is simple yet insightful, it does make it more real to the reader.
    Charlie sounds like the type of character you don't forget.

    I like the quotes you chose too.
    Great review as always.

  13. This is such a wonderful book. I read it when it first came out and again last month. Here is my review:

    One of my favorites

  14. This book sounds really awesome! I have to admit I just about requested it from the library when I suddenly realized that I have a novel to finish this month and then it is the holidays. Oh well, its on the wishlist now!

  15. This book sounds great! I always enjoy reading books on a younger protagonist's perspective... some times what they experience or encounter really amaze even for adults like us! I'll have to check out this book. Thanks for the great review, Nymeth! :)

  16. Oh, wow what a great review! You've definitely sold me on the book I want to read it now!

    You're doing terrible things to my wishlist!

  17. Glad you love it! This is possibly my favorite book.

  18. Such a great review for a book I haven't heard of! Goodness, I can see my theoretical wishlist growing every post!

    Considering that I totally adored The Catcher in the Rye, I'd probably be more than critical of this one :P

  19. You have just made me add this book to my TBR list, which is miles long already!

  20. Fantastic review, Nymeth! I haven't heard of this one (I feel like I must live in a cave for how often I say that!), but I'll definitely put it on the list (yay for christmas!). I haven't read Catcher either, but I've actually been a little bit leary of picking it up for all of the mixed reviews I've heard. What do you think?

    Also, love that there is a challenging english professor--perfect element for book! Thanks for the review.

  21. Great review, Nymeth! I read this a while ago, and liked it too.

  22. Naida: I think so too :) And thank you!

    Mari: I can definitely see why it's a favourite of yours. And thanks for the link! I remembered that someone else had reviewed it recently, but somehow google didn't come up with yours.

    Kim: The holidays are just the worst reading time, aren't they? I hope you enjoy the book when you get to it.

    Melody: Me too...I'm really a big fan of so-called coming-of-age stories. They never get old for me.

    Bart: I think being terrible for other people's wishlists is one of the requirements for being a book blogger :P I hope you enjoy the book!

    Marineko: Which only shows that you have great taste :P

    Lightheaded: I did too. And I really couldn't love Salinger more. But despite the parallels, this book is very much its own thing. I hope you enjoy it when you get to it!

    Jeane: lol, so is mine :P

    Trish: I think we all say that a lot...there are just too many books out there! The Catcher in the Rye is one of my favourite books, but it's also one I hesitate to recommend, because it's one of those you either love or hate, I think. Some people really connected with Holden, others find him whiny and annoying. It's a short book, though, so even if you don't enjoy it it won't take you too long to get through it.

    Alessandra, I'm glad you enjoyed it too :)

  23. I'd only heard of this book in passing, but it sounds truly lovely. Definitely one for my wishlist. Thanks!

  24. Lol. I swear, every time I see this cover I can't help but think that it looks like an accident. I'm almost positive I would like this but it seems like it would be one of those books that kind of makes me sad and puts me in a book slump when I'm done :(

    I love this book trailer.

  25. I'm putting this straight on my wishlist thanks. Sounds like just my kind of book.

  26. I'm definitely reading this. Just seeing the part you wrote about Charlie's relationship with his teacher and how he requires him to write essays of the books, got me very interested. Thanks for the great review!

  27. This has been on my wishlist forever too! I really like books like this so hopefully i'll get a chance to read it in 2009! ;-)

  28. You know, though I've heard this title before, I honestly didn't know a thing about this book. It sounds absolutely wonderful! Oooh, and just in time to stick on my list for Santa! (By the way, Santa may want to have a word with you when he sees the length of my list!)

  29. Mariel, hope you enjoy it!

    Ladytink, I'm not a big fan od the cover myself, but ah well :P The book is sad, but it's very hopeful at the same time. Thanks for the link to the trailer, I hadn't seen it before.

    Rhinoa, I think it is :)

    Alice: I just loved that. And I wish I'd had a teacher like that!

    Joanna, I hope you do!

    Debi: lol! I wouldn't mind having a word with Santa, so feel free to send him my way :P

  30. I've heard such mixed things about this book that it's good to read such a positive review. I think every high school kid in my area has read this book, and I never know what to tell them when they ask me about it!

  31. Bookchronicle: I loved Charlie, but I think that he's one of those characters (again, like Holden) that could also really annoy some people. So I'm not surprised there are mixed reviews of the book!

  32. Sounds like an interesting book. I love the title. Great review!

    Diary of an Eccentric

  33. I love this book! If nothing else, I had never heard "Asleep" before and HAD to get a copy as soon as I finished (in fact, I tried to recreate that entire mix tape.) "Asleep" is now my favorite song!

  34. I added this to my TBR list based solely on your glowing recommendation. Thanks!

  35. This is my first visit here. I LOVE how you offer to link other reviews and am going to follow you. I did review this one too BUT I honestly think your take is so well thought out and articulately written, there's no need to post mine.
    I'm interested to see how the film version of this one turns out - I will definitely be blogging about that when I see it.

  36. hey (:
    i love this book too.. it's such amazing.:)

    but I have 2 questions..

    why gives bill charlies these books ?
    How does Charlie react to the books?

    please send me you answer to my email:


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.