Sunday, February 10, 2013

Book review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Disclaimer: This review appears on Women24.com, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

...because at some point, someone's bound to notice you when you're standing and watching the world from the side lines while life passes you by.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (Simon & Schuster)

I'll be honest.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower was a book that I initially had no interest in reading.

Over the past couple of years, I had, of course heard a lot about what many consider to be a modern classic, but for some reason, have always buried my head in the sand whenever someone tried to get me to read the book.

Then I watched the movie trailer.

There was something about the trailer that had such an undeniable quirky charm about it, that I, for the first time, became curious about the novel.

I have a love affair with reads that are delightfully idiosyncratic, which is why, after all this time, I finally decided to give it ago.
My thoughts?

I think that The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a bit of an acquired read.

It's one of those books that you're either going to love, hate, or be ambivalent about.  For the most part, I found myself feeling rather conflicted about it.

Is it a bad book?

Not at all.  There's actually a lot to love about this book.

In fact, I found myself adoring the protagonist, Charlie's voice. There's something about him that brings out your protective instincts, regardless of whether or not you consider yourself to be the nurturing type. 

And even when he's experimenting with things that you wouldn't necessarily approve of, you'll still just want to grip him in a hug and never pull away. He’s just that kind of character.

My problem wasn’t with any of the characters though. It had a lot more to do with the structure of the book.

I thought that while the first half was good, it was the second half that proved to be a lot stronger and had a lot more of an emotional impact on me towards the end.  If I hadn't pushed on towards the end, I think I would probably have rated this just an ok book in terms of reading appeal.

But, since I have read the book, here's my advice to you. If do you find the book dragging,  push on towards the end - it's completely worth it to see Charlie come full circle.

Written in an epistolary format, The Perks of Being a Wallflower revolves around the life of 15-year old Charlie, a teenage boy who, by nature, is a wallflower.

Not exactly unattractive, but not one of the popular and alluring ones either, Charlie's an introverted soul who spends most of his time between home and school  - writing letters to an unnamed person  and revealing and sharing bits and pieces of his life, while also making random observations about fellow classmates (regardless of how well he knows them).

As an avid reader, Charlie is exceptionally intelligent.  He's a sweet, sweet boy who  puts others' needs before his own, is far more observant than his peers and  is similarly both more mature and more naive than his classmates.

He’s pretty clueless when it comes to social situations and often doesn’t really know how to communicate very well with his peers.

And yet, when he meets the two seniors  Patrick and Sam (who are step-brother and sister), Charlie finds himself introduced to a whole new world - one filled with social activities that he's never had a chance to be a part of.

Traversing his way through the unknown, Charlie is thrust head first into the belly of school politics and drama, stumbling his way through awkward first dates, conversations and kisses and learning about the ins and outs of sex.

Patrick and Sam also introduce him to a world of experimentation with alcohol and drugs, guiding him as he makes new friends and tries to find out where he belongs in the midst of all the partying, music soundtracks and life’s unexpected twists and turns.

But beneath his keen observations, there’s a sadness that lurks within. It’s a strange kind of sad – because he doesn’t know the cause of it and as a result, you as the reader can’t help but wonder just what memories he’s trying to suppress.

The best way that I can describe The Perks of a Wallflower is that it’s at once a coming-of-age novel and a travelogue through the vast spectrum of human – in this particular case teen – emotion.

It’s a book that isn’t afraid to tackle subjects that many authors and readers alike, steer away from and it’s a work of fiction that is all about finding your identity and making your mark on this world in your own way.

I should add that for anyone planning to read this book, you should be aware of the fact that Charlie’s voice is an incredibly young voice.

In fact, he narrates his story in such a clinically detached manner, that it almost feels like you as the reader, are standing on the outside of a sound-proof room, trying to connect to a boy who, you’ll soon come to suspect, rambles, talks and thinks too much, because keeping quiet will bring back the suppressed and unwanted demons of his past.

And this is in essence probably the reason you should read the book – it may read like you’re chewing on a dry piece of toast, but beneath the almost autistic-like (for lack of a better word) prose, you can’t help but feel that there is so much more to Charlie’s story than he lets on.

And that’s what we readers do after all. 

We don’t just read because of the story or because of the escapism it provides, we read because we want to uncover the story behind the story, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower is, for all intents and purposes, a book where the prose and writing style is just begging to reveal its sad and haunting secret.

Give it a try. You’ll be surprised at how quickly Charlie creeps into your heart (Sam and Patrick too – especially Patrick – he’s the gay best friend every girl and boy should have).

5 comments:

Willa said...

I have this one on my bookshelf and I need to read it sooner rather than later! Thanks for reviewing :-)

Leanna (Daisy Chain Book Reviews) said...

Thanks for the review, Tammy. I've had a copy of this one for ages, but for some reason I haven't gotten around to reading it yet. I sometimes feel like I'm the only person I know who hasn't read it! :)

Brandi Kosiner said...

I remember having issues with structure too, but liking the characters.
Happy reading,
Brandi @ Blkosiner’s Book Blog

Tom Andrias said...

Ahhh I also read it after I saw the trailer. I think I ignored it before because the title seemed unappealing to me, but now I absolutely love it!
Great blog btw !

Tom Andrias said...

Ahhh I also read it after I saw the trailer. I think I ignored it before because the title seemed unappealing to me, but now I absolutely love it!
Great blog btw !