There’s so much to say about this book it’s hard to know where to begin, or where to end for that matter. I never read this book in high school, though it would ironically always be that one book that people claimed to have read (by choice) and loved, often times it seemed for the sake of having “read” it, almost as a status symbol. Having read this for the first time in my later college years, I definitely see how much of the issues dealt with in this book can go over the heads of high schoolers, even intelligent ones. Yet that’s what’s so fascinating about this book; it has layers of reading. You can bet that this is a book that can be read multiple times and each time something new will stand out, make sense, or speak to the reader.
First off, I love Charlie as a narrative. His naiveté may bother some, but I think it makes him an honest narrator, as honest as he can be with his own biases. The format of the novel makes it seem as though each letter is addressed directly to the reader, the ambiguity of who Charlie is writing too makes the reader feel all that more connected to the plot and characters. This book deals with topics that range from mental illness, drug abuse, underage everything, gender and sexuality, mental, physical, and sexual abuse, and more. I’ve heard critiques of this book with people thinking it is unrealistic that so many issues could be encountered by one kid, but with the alarming statistics about how rampant these problems are in the US, it’s really not that surprising at all. Especially when one is a wallflower like Charlie, these multitudes of underlying issues are recognized by those who are quiet observers.
What really strikes me about this book is its timelessness. It was written in 1999, 14 years prior to when I am reading it today, and it takes place in 1991, over 20 years ago, well before the advent of so many things crucial to the young adult experience today, such as social media, a trending and increasing focus on social justice, the increasing awareness of teen depression, anxiety, and suicide, etc. Yet this book still hits the core of the trials of young adulthood flawlessly and honestly, proving that while knowledge, trends, and methods of communication change the teenage experience will always deal with struggle, acceptance, self-awareness, sexuality, trauma, learning tolerance, and learning one’s own potentials and weaknesses. I’m sure I can read this book another 10 years from now and still find it poignant and insightful. That’s another great aspect of the narrative; even if you’re no longer of the high school age, it serves as a tool of reflection and insight of your own experiences at that age.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower deserved every single star in my five-star review. Some may say there is no such thing as perfection, but this may well be as close as it gets. It has a way of sticking to you as a reader, resonating on a deeper emotional and intellectual level than most texts ever will. It is hauntingly honest, almost necessarily brutal in it’s portrayal of the experience of young adults. It’s unlike anything I have read, and if you’re to read just one book from the YA fiction genre, I say with full conviction that it should be this one. It’s a book that gives back to the reader as much as it takes.
Recommended for: Everyone, high school ages and up, especially readers in their twenties who will find this text poignant and reflective.