The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Sunday, December 6, 2009

While I really did enjoy The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I’m unsure of why it’s considered a modern classic (then again, I’ve heard it referred to as a modern Catcher in the Rye, and I’m reading that right now, and while it’s enjoyable, it’s not mind-blowing brilliant). It’s a book I definitely think is worth reading and discussing – it contains lots of interesting issues, very thought-provoking stuff, and Charlie is certainly a unique character – and it’s also very quotable. I loved the pop culture references (even though I don’t particularly like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It just made me feel uncomfortable) and the letter format. There were a few things that bothered me, and that I’m interested to hear your views on as well, if you’ve read this (hopefully I haven’t been too harsh here. I really did enjoy it):

It really seemed as if Charlie was autistic or otherwise mentally handicapped. Or that he’d been homeschooled his entire life and had never engaged with other people his age (not to say that homeschooling is a bad thing – I was homeschooled for a time myself – but he seemed awfully sheltered). He seemed to have no social ability, and was totally unaware of things like homosexuality. The book was written very simply – lots of run-on sentences and no contractions. (Note that I’m not saying this book was bad – I quite enjoyed it – just mentioning what really stood out for me.)

While the title is great, Charlie doesn’t seem like a wallflower at all. He’s accepted into a group of older teenagers who really like him, and he dates one older girl and hooks up with another older girl over the course of his first year of high school. Yes, he totally lacks social tact. Yes, he’s weird. I don’t think he’s a wallflower at all, though, since he is socially accepted and seems to get by.

Again, I’ve read a lot of reviews of people complaining about sexual content, mostly the storyline with Charlie’s gay friend. Whilst I think parents do have a right to decide what their children read, most of the stuff in here are things that their kids have heard about or experienced probably by their mid-to-late teens. I wasn’t particularly shocked by anything, though I disliked the fact that Charlie’s gay friend was made out to be a slut (going to parks at night and hooking up with strange men) which is something I read too often in YA literature (gay teenaged male? They’re always promiscuous. I mean, seriously, you can’t be gay and have decent standards and morals. It’s like being a sociopath that experiences empathy).

Now, a note on these reviews of older books I’m doing – I know in the past I’ve said that there’s no need to review meanly (and I’m really trying not to, sorry if I did that with Forever) but with these types of books that have been widely read or are considered modern classics of YA literature, I think it’s really worth discussing, rather than writing a stock-standard review (This book was ___. The characterisations were ___. This book will appeal to ___.).

It’s worth thinking about things like ‘Why is this book so popular? If this book were published today, how would it be received by today’s teenaged readers? What do I think of other people’s views on this book?’

Hopefully that made some sense. Nod if you understood. If you want to recommend an older YA book, go ahead.

Have you read The Perks of Being a Wallflower? What were your thoughts?
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