Charlie is a sixteen-year-old young man whose narration suggests a mild retardation or some sort of unresolved trauma to the brain. In any case, Charlie’s woebegotten melodrama is told through a series of letters that he is writing to an apparently random individual (although Charlie consistently maintains that this person is not a stranger, the individual’s actually identity is never revealed). In these letters, Charlie admits to his growing apprehension regarding the start of high school, but his fears are alleviated upon meeting some new besties, Patrick and his step-sister, Sam. The trio partake in a series of high school adventures that are commonplace in books and film, but rarely occur in the reality of high school. They drive quickly in a truck and and refer to it as “being infinite,” and habitually enjoy alcohol, pot, LSD, and sex.
Charlie is also treated to a number of allegedly poignant people who cannot help but constantly utter deep truths that Charlie will “never forget.” When this happens, he cries. In fact, Charlie spends approximately 2/3 of The Perks of Being a Wallflower in tears. We come to learn that this lad has his reasons for crying. In the course of this short novel, Charlie has witnessed a rape, driven his sister to her abortion appointment, suffered a mental breakdown upon the death of his aunt, lost his virginity, made out with Patrick, initiated sex with Sam but then at the pivotal moment he abandons the deed upon remembering repressed memories of being molested and/or raped by his dead aunt (not while she was dead – although frankly, who knows for sure?).
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is offensive to the teenage intellect and reductively stereotypical towards the teenage experience. When did it become the norm for the coming-of-age novel to depict drug and sex-fueled romps through adolescence as a standard right of passage into adulthood? I know it happens to some kids, but at times Chbosky almost glorifies it – as if casual drug use and sexual indiscretion are things that everyone should try, maybe even throw in some suicidal thoughts for good measure.
To solidify my hatred, Perks is an epistolary novel, which is a fine form when in the right hands (see Frankenstein, Dracula, Bridget Jones’ Diary). The epistolary novel is one told through a series of letters, which pulls the reader into the narrator’s confidence in addition to adding an air of realism to the contents of said letters. Charlie’s letters begin, “Dear Friend,” and end with “Love, Charlie,” to drive this point home and to contribute to my general dislike of Charlie. Who exactly is Charlie writing these letters to – and, better yet – why don’t I care? Charlie would have been better off writing in a journal, it would have made more since instead of the awkward, un-named letter recipient.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is truly one of the more disappointing novels I’ve read. John Green left me feeling hopeful and open to reading this sort of novel, but now I’m going to have to revisit The Fault in Our Stars before even considering another venture into this genre.