REVIEW: The Perks of Being A Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Charlie is a freshman. And while he's not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix-tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But Charlie can't stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.

The very essence of this book’s narrator is that he is passive. In 213 pages, apart from one or two times, he does not directly cause any of the action included in the plot, he just reacts to them. Or doesn’t react to them, in the case of the rape, which I am still trying to comprehend. 
In Charlie is a reflection of all of the other characters in the book and whether that is due to him being a wallflower or not, that means that Charlie is undoubtedly the flatest character in Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being A Wallflower by a fair distance. I mean, what do we really know about Charlie? He speaks and does so little in the scenes that his letters are depicting that you never get a true picture as to who Charlie actually is. There are so needless tidbits of information that we know about other characters - I honestly believe we know more about Charlie’s brother’s girlfriend who we never meet than we do about him - but Charlie never becomes more than an observant boy who likes his Aunt Helen, “Asleep” by The Smiths and pre-WW2 literature.
I mean, I suppose that I could add that he writes like a seven-year-old boy but that aspect of the book is still driving me a little crazy. There is a point in the book where Charlie says that his English teacher often forgets that he is only sixteen-years-old and I actually had to put the book down for a moment. 'I am outside of its target audience, I am outside of its target audience', I had chanted up to this point - all of the clunky sentences seemingly confirming that it is best that I continue to leave YA books firmly behind. But then I realised, at the age of twenty-one, that is not actually true and the reason why I was feeling this way, is the way that the book was written. This book could have packed so much more of an emotional punch, if only it was written in the voice of a sixteen-year-old boy that felt more realistic. And honestly, I am still stuck on the fact that a boy can get to that age and not know what masturbation and rape(!!!!) was.
This book succeeds so much on its concept, and how the situations that Charlie confronted (mental illness, sexual assault, sex, drugs, parties, homosexuality) were relatable to a majority of the young people who will have read it, but it fails on execution. Giving Charlie LSD, or his first sexual encounter felt so damn weird because of just how young he came across - him buying drugs and growing accustomed to smoking weed honestly boggled my mind. Another issue was that, because of the epistolary style of the book, all of these situations fail to create the reaction that they deserve. Because you are hearing them through Charlie’s frankly shit narration, you feel disconnected from their impact and their consequences. 
Stephen Chbosky’s themes have honestly left me with a lot to think about, but I think I’ll definitely prefer them in my own stream of consciousness as opposed to Charlie’s.

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