Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Books have a tendency to find their way into my home by various ways and means. There are books that are purchased brand new, after a trip to the bookshop, books that I am desperate to read and that I order online because they're either out of print in Australia or hard to come by, books that I receive for review, books that are gifted or loaned to me, and books that I find in secondhand bookshops or little street libraries.

Then there are books like The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

I was browsing in Savers one day when I stumbled across well, several copies. This isn't unusual for my neighbourhood. It seems as though every now and again, everyone decides to buy and read, and then get rid of, the same YA novel. It happened with Twilight, it happened with Before I Die and more than likely all of those film tie-in copies of Simon Vs the Homo-Sapien Agenda and To All the Boys I've Loved Before will go the same way soon, if they haven't already.

Anyway, in the particular week, month or whatever I happened to be browsing the shelves at Savers, the book everyone was getting rid of was The Perks of Being a Wallflower. A little intrigued (as I had only heard good things about the book and film) I picked up a copy.

And that was when a complete stranger walked up to me and said that I shouldn't read it. 'That's a hard book,' she added, before turning away.

It couldn't be that hard, I decided, before walking to the checkout with a copy. Besides, I don't like it when people tell me that I shouldn't read something. Surely an adult with an Honours degree in English Literature can decide for themselves what to read.

It turns out that The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a hard book. 

It is hard, emotionally.

But the whole thing is so well done that I think everyone should read it. Even if they don't like it, or agree with it. Charlie's story is an important one. 

Told in the form of letters that Charlie has mailed to a complete stranger (ie the reader,) this is the story of a highly intelligent and sensitive young man, who is just trying to make sense of the world around him. Charlie is in his first year of high school. He has trouble relating to people, but he soon finds friends in Sam and Patrick, two senior students who see that he is vulnerable and take him under their wing. Over the course of a year, the socially awkward Charlie learns some big life lessons, survives his crush on Sam and eventually confronts some terrible childhood memories that he has kept buried deep within.

This isn't a book about perfect people, about Charlie learning how to fit in and suddenly becoming popular, or his life being magically fixed after he speaks up about the horrific abuse that was inflicted on him by a trusted adult. It's the story of someone trying to make it through life when the odds are against them--when they don't fit in, when they see the world differently to others around them. Charlie doesn't always make the best choices for himself, and he seems a bit doomed in a way, but that only serves to make his character all the more believable.

Overall this is an excellent book. Though it packs a huge emotional impact, and there may be a few triggers for readers who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, this is the perfect book for anyone who wants to try and understand how tough life can be for those who are different.

Highly recommended. 


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